Australian farmers claim the trade war with China and the Covid-19 pandemic will cost them nearly $30 billion this decade, as they implored the government to help them survive one of their most challenging years.
In a pre-budget submission announced on February 5, the country’s National Farmers Federation said the government needs to invest in the development of a long-term agricultural trade strategy.
“Recent disruptions will cost the industry A$36.9 billion ($28 billion) this decade,” NFF chief executive Tony Mahar said.
“To counter these headwinds, a long-term trade strategy that deepens access to existing markets, diversifies export destinations, improves supply chains, and builds domestic value-adding capabilities is a must.”
The NFF called for investment of A$3.5bn to support a trade strategy aimed at diversifying the nation’s export markets and improving supply chains.
The industry’s goal to boost the annual value of farm production to A$100 billion by 2030 will be “severely challenged” by trade disruptions, unless more support can be provided by Canberra, it warned.
Beijing has disrupted Australia’s farm sector over the past 18 months by slapping tariffs and quotas on barley, seafood, wine and other exports as bilateral ties sank to their lowest level in a generation.
Relations soured after Canberra called for an international probe into the origins of coronavirus in April and resisted Beijing’s more aggressive foreign policy.
ASIA’S FOOD BOWL
This deterioration in relations has forced producers to seek new markets and threatens plans to develop Australia into an Asia-Pacific “food bowl” as populations rise and incomes improve.
The NFF also called on the Australian government to help it alleviate effects of the continuing coronavirus pandemic. While Australia has largely brought Covid-19 under control, supply chain disruptions and border closures have hit farmers hard.
Mahar said biosecurity is a key to maintaining and expanding export markets.
“The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the wrecking ball effect a biosecurity outbreak can have. The cost of a single outbreak of disease or pest has been conservatively estimated to exceed $50 billion.”
A critical lack of farm workers continues to constrain Australian agriculture’s growth with the perennial shortage exacerbated by pandemic-related border restrictions.
“The NFF’s pre-budget submission puts forward a holistic workforce package to address the challenge,” said Mahar.
The federation called for $400 million to expand mobile-phone services in rural Australia, and to support regional Australians in getting connected.
Mahar offered qualified support to emission reductions. “The sector backs an economy-wide aspiration of net zero emissions by 2050, provided it is economically sound and government policy is not unnecessarily detrimental to the industry,” he said.
• George Russell with Reuters.