Industry alarm over unhelpful free trade agreement deal for Aussie beef

CATTLE Australia has warned the nation’s grass-fed beef sector will suffer at the hands of the Australia-European Union Free Trade Agreement (Australia-EU FTA) unless greater volumes of red meat can be negotiated by Australian officials.

It is understood preliminary talks will be held this week in Brussels ahead of Trade Minister, Don Farrell, travelling to a G7 Trade Ministers’ forum in Osaka, Japan, where he will speak with his EU counterpart in a sideline meeting to firm up terms of the agreement.

Terms proposed earlier by the EU include a highly restrictive quota position and tariffs that are disproportionate to the volumes of European-produced meat products that could be exported to Australia.

Current EU market access is for a meagre 3,389 tonnes per year of Australian beef with a tariff imposition of 20% – the equivalent of 10,000 carcasses or just one week’s output from a major processing facility.

Cattle Australia Chair, David Foote, said there was alarm throughout industry a deal would be signed that was not just unhelpful, but extremely limiting to Australian agricultural businesses, including grass-fed beef, now and long into the future.

“It makes zero sense to open the gates to more EU-produced food coming into our country while limiting the volumes we can export in return,” Mr Foote said.

“Minister Farrell has stated no deal will be signed that is not in Australia’s overall best interest, however Cattle Australia remains concerned current terms could see our sector traded off for improved non-agricultural industry access to the EU market bloc.”

Mr Foote said Cattle Australia feared a decision could be rushed in Osaka for the sake of making a deal in this Government cycle, without full consideration of the long-term impact it would have on an industry which contributes almost 12% of the nation’s total goods and services exports.

“Based on the original offers, and the extremely limited volume access we will likely have to the EU, this agreement gives us no opportunity to either grow our volume over time nor operate on a level playing field with other agrifood producing nations such as the USA, New Zealand, Canada and South America, in a trade environment where the EU directly competes with meat exports to our key markets such as China, South Korea, Japan and USA,” Mr Foote said.

“This all adds to our home-grown producers being at a distinct market access disadvantage that will go on to impact the prosperity of rural and regional communities.

“The EU says it wants the FTA to level its access to the Australian market with other members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership such as the USA, China, Japan and Korea, but this simply cannot be done at the expense of our own agriculture sector.

“The grass-fed cattle industry urges our representatives to push the EU to present terms that are equitable and reasonable for our sector, or to simply walk away from what are currently unfair conditions.

“We want a fair trade deal, not just a Free Trade Deal.”

-Cattle Australia