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Government urged to hold firm on FTA negotiations

THE red meat industry is calling on the Federal Government to stand by its stated objective of securing significant increases in market access for red meat ahead of what may be a final push for the Australia-European Union Free Trade Agreement (A-EU FTA) negotiations.

Staff Writer
 Taskforce says A-EU FTA negotiations must deliver for red meat. Photo: Mark Saunders.

Taskforce says A-EU FTA negotiations must deliver for red meat. Photo: Mark Saunders.

To coincide with trade minister Don Farrell's meeting with his EU counterpart next week, industry representatives will travel to Osaka, Japan, and encourage him to continue the mission of ‘levelling the playing field' for Australian beef and sheepmeat access to the EU.

The Australia-EU Red Meat Market Access Taskforce said with the EU holding firm on its highly restrictive quota position, Australian officials must also be firm there should be no deal for the sake of a deal and importantly, no deal without addressing the red meat sector's disproportionally low volume access.

Taskforce chair, Andrew McDonald, said their case for seeking and securing significant trade reform is compelling.  

"The EU is one of the world's largest meat consumers and in order to service this demand, there is an ongoing import requirement," he said.

"Australia's trading relationship with the EU is based on shared values and is heavily focussed on meeting EU customer demand for high quality red meat products. 

"However, our ability to service the market is severely limited due to the EU's maintenance of outdated, inequitable and restrictive quotas and high tariffs. 

"This access has been largely unaltered for nearly 50 years; but to make matters worse, it has actually been eroded while we've been negotiating the FTA.

"We've watched our competitors improve their access to the market and now we're looking to ‘level the playing field' - as the EU mantra consistently states."

The Taskforce said the competitive disadvantage of Australian products and trade imbalance on meat products which favours the EU must be addressed and these negotiations were the precise and potentially only opportunity to achieve these imperatives.

"Our industry is an ardent supporter of trade reform and we have worked very closely with the negotiating team and their EU counterparts to ensure our position is well known," McDonald said.

"These negotiations, while challenging, must get it right. Agreeing to a sub-optimal outcome will set back any reform to our trade framework to the EU for the foreseeable future and detrimentally impact our trade resilience and diversification for decades to come."

Minister Farrell's said recently "if we can land a deal with the EU, it will deepen and diversify our trade, expand opportunities for Australian exporters and strengthen our supply chains."  

The Taskforce said the industry concurs with this comment, saying it is a direct reflection of the red meat industry's position, and now the Government needs to stand and deliver. 

"This is a once in a generation opportunity for our industry to improve our market access and we're looking to Minister Farrell and his government to maintain the resolve, even if that takes the negotiations beyond an end October timeline," McDonald said. 

NFF URGES FARRELL TO STAND FIRM

The National Farmers' Federation (NFF) has echoed these sentiments by urging the Australian Government not to be bullied into meeting an EU-driven timeline and sign the impending trade deal unless major improvements are put on the table for Aussie farmers.

NFF president, Fiona Simson, said farmers were fearful of being sold out at the 11th hour, with grave concern Minister Farrell is heading to Osaka ready to sign the deal.

"We're yet to hear any indication that the EU is willing to put a commercially meaningful deal on the table," Simson said.

"Everything we've seen so far would actually send parts of our sector backwards. We've never seen a proposed trade deal like it."

NFF said the recent proposals would put Australian farmers at a disadvantage to commercial competitors like Canada, New Zealand and South America.

"The current proposal would lock Aussie farmers in at a disadvantage for the next half century," Simson said.

"We want to see a good deal for everyone. But currently, we're being asked to sit at the table and watch the EU have its cake and eat it too.

"We're grateful to the Minister and officials who have been working hard on these negotiations.

"We appreciate their work, but we don't want to agree a deal just because we've worked hard on it, or because the EU throws its weight around.

"There's no rush. We should only agree a deal if it's the right deal."

 

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