The Murray Region's Export Success

Speech by the Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, The Hon Tim Fischer at the Launch of the Murray Region Supermarket to Asia Forum, Shepparton, Victoria, 18 March 1998.


Introduction

Mrs Sharman Stone, Member for Murray, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be here today in the Murray region - one of Australia's most productive farm areas.

Australia benefits enormously from the efforts of the farmers and food processors of the Murray region. Its agriculture sector generates around a twentieth of Australia's total produce and the food processing sector is responsible for a similar proportion of Australia's total output in this area.

Moreover, the region is already highly export oriented. Over half the sales of processed foods made in the region are made overseas. This represents well over a billion dollars in export earnings.

The Murray Region Supermarket to Asia Forum

I commend a region already highly geared towards exports for looking to involve even more companies in the export effort. Today's launch of the Murray Region Supermarket to Asia Forum is a very positive step towards even higher export levels.

The Forum brings together CEOs of major food industry processors in the region, manufacturing companies which support food exports and emerging small business exporters - as well as a wide range of supporting government and private sector regional organisations.

The involvement of such a broad cross-section of the regional economy will see a "whole-of-region" approach to developing and promoting the Murray region's strengths internationally.

And what strengths! Dairy, fruit and vegetables, beef cattle, pigs and poultry - we have the finest in the world in all these areas.

Asia has been discovering this in recent years - and despite the current economic downturn in the region, I can see Asia purchasing even more over the next decade. Nonetheless I know that the financial crises in Indonesia, South Korea and Thailand is of concern for you.

Developments in Asia

Last week I made clear in my Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement to Parliament that we are in there batting for Australian jobs and lending a hand to neighbours at this important time.

We have expanded our credit insurance for exporters, extended the Export Market Development Grants Scheme, contributed to the IMF packages in Asia, set up special assistance through Austrade and, through Exporter Summits and individually, talked to exporters about how we can best help.

The Government is committed to Asia for the long haul. We realise many of our exporters are doing it tough at the moment and we will do all we can to protect our market share. We must not let our competitors steal a march on us in Asia.

We also must not forget that there are often opportunities in adversity.

With careful risk management and a more competitive Australian dollar against US and European currencies, a strategic approach to Asian markets may well pay significant export dividends as Asian economies recover.

The Supermarket to Asia Initiative

Given the difficulties our region is experiencing we all need to work harder to increase our exports of agricultural and food products.

The Government established the Supermarket to Asia Council in 1996 to take greater advantage of our natural attributes and improve our competitiveness. The Council is seeking to address impediments from production in Australia to supermarket shelves in Asia.

The Council last year set an ambitious target of $16 billion worth of food exports to Asian markets by the year 2000 - potentially generating up to 10,000 jobs. Despite Asia's current problems the Council believes this target is still achievable. I am pleased to say the feedback I have been receiving from industry is that companies are staying with Asian markets.

Let me tell you about some of the Council's achievements over the last eighteen months.

I chaired the key Market Access Working Group which achieved a number of practical outcomes, including appointing a dedicated Market Access Facilitator for Processed Foods and Beverages. We also identified the need for additional resources in Tokyo and Seoul to address technical access issues - and these are now in place.

And I urge all exporters to get hold of our Market Access Guide which helps better understand our existing market access mechanisms and directs potential exporters to officials dealing with specific issues.

Another important Council programme is the Delicatessen Programme where producers are helped to establish and market new, high value niche food products tailored specifically for Asia.

Following a pilot project last year the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy has just announced four more market development projects: "Asian style" beef, live bay lobster, organic grass fed beef and - in Victoria - semi processed green tea for the Japanese market.

Another very important Council initiative has been, of course, the holding of regional forums to identify emerging exporters. These bring leading and potential exporters together - generating considerable enthusiasm and shared knowledge in the process.

The Murray Region Forum held last year has been particularly valuable. It has led to the creation of the exciting initiative we are launching today. I congratulate you on your efforts in creating this association for exporters - I hope the first of many.

The WTO and the Cairns Group - Playing By the Rules

In addition to the Supermarket to Asia initiative the Government is also pushing hard for Australian agricultural and food exporters in key multilateral trade forums.

As many of you know, Australia is chair of the Cairns Group of fifteen agricultural exporting countries - a group that has done an enormous amount to put agriculture on the multilateral trade agenda and keep it there. The Cairns Group is the most successful and enduring issue-specific coalition in the multilateral trading system.

The Cairns Group Ministerial meeting which I will be chairing in Sydney early next month will be a critical meeting for the Group as it develops objectives for the next round of multilateral negotiations on agriculture in 1999. The meeting will consider strategies to advance the Group's interests in the World Trade Organisation prior to the commencement of the negotiations.

These agriculture negotiations present a major opportunity for Australia, but we have a hard task ahead of us.

Despite some positive signs, it is going to be a big job for Australia and the Cairns Group to push for a decisive global political shift to making further multilateral reforms in agriculture. Nevertheless you can be confident that Australia will be leading the campaign for fair trading rules on agriculture.

Conclusion

In closing today, I would like, once again, to applaud the initiative of the Murray Region's export-focused farmers and food processors. It is co-ordinated, well-planned efforts such as the Murray Region Supermarket to Asia Forum which will bring Australia further export success.


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