All Foreign to the Nats

27 August 2014

Published in The Weekly Times, 27 August 2014
AUSTRALIAS farmers are equal to the worlds best.
Thats why agriculture is one of our most successful export sectors.
But its also why further trade liberalisation is so important.
Because no matter how efficient our primary producers, trade barriers make it harder for them to compete.
Labor and Coalition governments have pursued trade agreements to reduce these barriers for Australian farm products.
When Labor was in government it secured free trade agreements with Chile, Thailand and ASEAN-New Zealand. The Abbott Government has signed agreements with Korea and Japan.
These agreements all achieved gains, although the Japanese deal was disappointing and clearly oversold to the public by the Abbott Government.
The next big prize is an FTA with China. A genuinely liberalising FTA would improve access to the Chinese market for Australian grains, cotton, canola, sugar, meat and dairy products.
In the FTA negotiations now under way, Australia is asking China to reduce its barriers to our farm goods. In return, Beijing wants Australia to reduce hurdles to its investment in Australia.
Yet the Nationals are advocating highly restrictive Foreign Investment Review Board rules for overseas investors in Australias agriculture sector.
This stance by the Nationals is against the interests of Australian farmers. It jeopardises the prospects of getting the best deal for agriculture in the China FTA.
And imposing barriers on foreign investment in agriculture makes no economic sense.
As the populations of Asian countries grow more affluent, their diets will change. The quantity and quality and also the types of food they consume will change. This will create great opportunities for Australia.
Investing in expanding and diversifying agricultural production, and in modernising our food processing operations will help realise these opportunities.
Placing hurdles in the way of investment will make it harder for our primary industries to grow.
That is why foreign investment in agriculture whether from China, the US or Europe should be treated in the same way as investment in other sectors.
The Government cannot have it both ways. It cannot declare that Australia is open for business, but then tell would-be investors in agriculture that they will face more red tape than investors in any other part of the economy.