Speech by the Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, The Hon Tim Fischer to open the Australia Centre for Oilseed Research Pilot-Scale Facility, Horsham, 9 April 1998.


John Forrest (MP), Bill McGrath (MLA, Member for Wimmera), Bernie Dunn (Mayor, Horsham Rural City Council), Warren McClelland (President VFF Grains), Peter Whykes (Chair, ACOR Board), Bill Scowcroft (Director, ACOR), Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here today, and to have the opportunity to open this new pilot-scale facility.

Keeping Ahead of the Competition

I think it was a famous American baseball pitcher who once said - "Don't look back - they might be gaining on you". But, as we have already heard this morning from Bill Scowcroft and others, the Australian Centre for Oilseed Research (ACOR) - and all those associated with the Centre and the industry - can look back over the past 1-2 years with a sense of great pride and achievement. You are keeping well ahead of the competition - from the creation of the Centre in late 1996 to today's official opening of the pilot-scale facility. It is testimony to the dedication and hard work of many individuals and institutions.

ACOR is filling an important gap in the industry - not just in research and development but in making sure that the good news about oilseeds is more widely disseminated. It is helping the industry come to grips with new technology and industry trends and innovations.

Growth in Oilseeds Production

This is against a background of continued encouraging growth in the oilseeds industry which now has a value of $ 1 billion per year. The outlook for the industry remains positive, with ABARE recently having forecast that Australia's canola harvest will reach 812 thousand tonnes in 1997-98, 26 per cent more than the preliminary 1996-97 estimates. Projections to the year 2002-03 suggest the canola crop being three and a half times its existing level. This is very encouraging news.

This pilot facility is an important step forward - it has the capacity to process three to eight tonnes of seed per day and refine the resultant oil. It is designed both for oilseed R&D and for processing and refining pre-commercial samples of oilseeds.

I am very pleased that the Commonwealth Government has been able to contribute $1 million to this venture, along with the $800,000 from the Victorian Government, and the many other sponsors and companies that have provided financial and in-kind assistance. It is a `textbook example' of how Government, business and academia can cooperate over the long term in the national interest.

Demand for Oilseeds

World demand for oilseeds products is increasing, even in the face of the regional economic crisis. The Government is, of course, watching developments in Asia closely and has responded decisively through IMF contributions and increased export finance assistance to Indonesia and Korea.

The Government remains committed to Asia for the long haul, but we also look to other markets around the world as part of a fully integrated bilateral, regional and multilateral trade approach to maximise the market opportunities for Australian exporters.

Trade and Oilseeds

One example is particularly relevant to today's proceedings and highlights the benefits of this Government's reinvigorated bilateral trade policy. Australia will soon be exporting canola to Mexico in a market access initiative that means local growers can look forward to a share in a market currently worth $220 million annually.

The Howard Government has also been pushing for freer trade in soybeans in APEC. Along with other APEC economies we are currently developing plans for the complete elimination of tariffs and non-tariff measures on soybeans and soybean products, such as margarine, cotton seed oil, and rapeseed oil.

The potential benefits for Australian oilseed farmers from greater market access in APEC are substantial. Just look at the figures : intra-APEC trade covers around 46 per cent of global trade in this sector. And Australian exports of oilseeds and oilseed products to APEC economies were worth $245 million last financial year.

However, significant barriers to Australian exports in oilseed products continue to exist in several APEC economies. In vegetable oils, for example, barriers exist in Japan, China, Thailand, and Korea. And - in protein meal - Australian exports to Indonesia, China, Thailand and the Philippines continue to be impeded by trade barriers. And yet the majority of Australia's own tariffs on these products are at zero - so we are very well placed to argue our `free trade case' in the region.

Cairns Group

I also want to emphasise that the Government's free trade horizons are not limited to APEC. Last week in Sydney, Australia led the way in achieving a very positive outcome from the Cairns Group Ministerial meeting of agricultural free traders. The Cairns Group, an Australian initiative, confirmed its position at the Sydney meeting as the most successful and enduring issue-specific coalition in the multilateral trading system. The Group continues to push out the envelope on the desperate need for agricultural trade reform, particularly in markets like the EU, Japan, Korea and the US.

Australia is proud to be leading this global free trade push in agriculture, as per our efforts in Sydney last week. Interestingly, I would also like to draw your attention to a Thai initiative at the Cairns Group meeting. This was to include language in the final communique emphasising that "the maintenance of liberal and open world markets will facilitate the quick recovery of those countries affected" by the Asian financial crisis. This was a heartening message given the potential that exists for inward, protectionist responses to the current situation in Asia.

Conclusion

The potential rewards of continued international reform of agriculture to Australia's farmers and producers are immense - it is vital for jobs and prosperity, not just in Victoria but right across Australia. The ultimate prize for Australia is that our highly efficient, export-oriented farmers will only have to compete against farmers from other nations on the world stage, not against their big-spending Treasuries as well.

Once again, my congratulations to all those associated with getting this pilot facility up and running. I am delighted to declare it open.

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