Its been a difficult 12 months for the table grape industry.
At the end of 2019, the price of water on the temporary market was through the roof. In addition the Indonesian market caused concern and confusion for Red Globe producers. COVID-19 didn’t spare the industry, with workforce challenges rising as first international borders closed and then State borders.
Now, there is uncertainty in the Australia-China trade relationship. Table grape growers are worried that Australia’s relationship with our largest trading partner could get worse before it gets better. China is one of the biggest markets for our table grapes, at around 40% of Australian exports.
Causing concern are rumours that some importers have been instructed not to buy Australian products including table grapes.
Having been in Canberra this week, I discussed this issue with both the Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, and the Assistant Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Gee. I want to reassure growers that the Australian Government is monitoring this situation closely and is working through diplomatic channels to ensure our produce keeps moving.
The Minister for Trade and Investment, Simon Birmingham, has also noted that rumours of blanket bans of Australian produce have not yet materialised, and said that Chinese authorities have publicly and privately denied this sort of treatment, which is heartening. However, he Government is very concerned at actions taken on Australian barley, wine, meat, and lobster exports and are concerned this does flow into other exports like table grape industry.
Diversification and expanding into new markets has and will continue to be important for the industry. I understand this is easier said than done, relationships with importers are often built up over years of doing business. That’s why the government is working to support industry with opening up new market access and negotiating new free trade agreements. These efforts will always remain a high key priority.
The Australian government faces a difficult dilemma of balancing Australia’s trade interests against issues of foreign interference and protecting our nation’s sovereignty and strategic interests. The Government will continue working collaboratively with industry and our trade partners to ensure we strike the right balance.