OFFICIALS are hoping a new wheat and barley protocol with China, dealing with phytosanitary concerns, will help consolidate Australia’s $1.5 billion trade with the Asian powerhouse.
Last week, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Senator Richard Colbeck, announced he had signed the protocol.
Australian officials won crucial concessions from the Chinese Government in relation to numbers of weed seeds.
When negotiations began on the protocol, which comes up for review every three years, China indicated it would push for zero tolerance on a number of extremely common Australian weeds, such as brome grass, milk thistle and wild oats.
“We told them we just could not agree to those terms, it would be impossible to sign a declaration to say there was absolutely zero seeds in a bulk shipment,” said Tony Russell, chief executive of the Grains Industry Market Access Forum (GIMAF).
“Negotiations went on from there, and in the process we’ve won some critical concessions that mean there is a tolerance for some numbers of weed seeds.
“The market to China is going to remain open, and that is a really good outcome for us.”
Senator Colbeck agreed.
“This protocol will be crucial in underpinning and expanding our grain trade opportunities in this market,” he said.
Mr Russell said Australian exporters would have to work hard to ensure they complied with the protocol.
“We will need industry management plans and exporters will need to be vigilant to keep weed seed numbers down.”
Senator Colbeck said negotiating a deal with China meant Australian grain producers would have a key competitive advantage.
“Global competition to supply the Chinese market is fierce.
“The work done to finalise the China-Australia free trade agreement (ChAFTA) gives us a significant competitive advantage in this market.”
Senator Colbeck also said the agreement was timely in terms of allowing Australian barley exporters capitalise on new concessions won in the ChAFTA, where a three per cent tariff on barley imports from Australia was recently abolished.
“Australian barley exports to China have already seen dramatic growth - barley exports to this market doubled over the last year to over $1 billion and accounted for over 60pc of total Australian barley exports in 2013–14.”
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the ability to work with the Chinese agricultural sector in regards to biosecurity issues was paying dividends.
“By listening to China, and working closely with our domestic industry, we have arrived at a protocol that meets China’s requirements and will enable exports to continue,” he said.
Mr Russell said Australia’s reputation for grain hygiene had helped win the concessions from Chinese biosecurity officials.
“What we have are phytosanitary statements where it is what it says it is on the label.
“If we say there will be less than so many weed seeds, there will be, it is not just an empty statement and that reputation has helped us.”
Senator Colbeck has also been holding high-level discussions with government counterparts and industry representatives about a range of agricultural export issues.
Sorghum woes continue
Meanwhile, the ongoing issue with sorghum import permits remains a problem for Australian exporters looking to sell sorghum to the Chinese feeder industry.
There is zero tolerance for Johnson grass seeds in sorghum going into the Chinese feed sector. The grass is extensively found in Australian sorghum growing regions.
“Unfortunately, it is not something we can resolve quickly,” Mr Russell said.
“Down the track we would love to negotiate a similar protocol to what is in place for wheat and barley but that won’t happen overnight.”