Article – Leaders back Forrest’s Team Australia food-to-Asia drive

by 4 June 2014

2 June 2014
Matt Chambers and Geoff Elliott
The Australian

Business leaders and policymakers are backing a push by billionaire Andrew Forrest to ­elevate Australia’s position as a ­secure food exporter to China and Asia, building momentum for an initiative the Perth-based iron ore magnate is calling the Australian Sino 100-year Agricultural Partnership.

Mr Forrest told the Australia in China’s Century Conference on Friday that he had spoken to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang about the idea and wanted to unite the food industry in a “Team Australia” campaign to sell food to China.

Anthony Pratt, executive chairman of packaging group Visy, welcomed the plan. Visy is a sponsor of The Australian’ssuccessful Global Food Forum conference program. Mr Pratt also stressed there needed to be a ­regional approach.

“I commend the Team Australia approach for food exports, which I’ve been proposing for two to three years,’’ Mr Pratt said, noting this should include pooling freight forwarding of agriculture and processed foods to get economies of scale.

“The focus should not just be China, but should also include Japan, India, Indonesia and Korea — we should fully leverage our imminent free trade agreements, which the Abbott government has shown such great leadership and execution in securing.’’

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce also backed Mr Forrest’s plan. “We can have a symbiotic relationship with China in that they want a quality, premium product and we can provide it,” Mr Joyce said.

But creating a united front to promote quality Australian products was essential.

“If you want to create confusion, there’s no surer way than to have the NSW food forum and Queensland food forum and South Australian food forum, because you differentiate them in such a way that each is smaller than New Zealand,” Mr Joyce told The Australian.

“You have to band together under a national banner.”

Mr Forrest wants to secure a high-level summit between policymakers and business leaders from China and Australia in the next two months, ahead of the G20 meeting in Brisbane in ­November. “I’m writing to major food producers, pulling us all together so that we have a Team Australia — Team Food Australia for Asia — coming together to give a united voice,” he said. “Not one state over another, one industry over another, one producer over another … Team Australia coming together to finally get those supermarket shelves packed full of Australian produce.’’

Mr Forrest told The Australian on the sidelines of the conference that he wanted to help “pull together the strategy Australia needs to present itself to China as part of the food security solution’’.

China’s need to ensure it can feed its population is the paramount policy challenge in Beijing.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the quest for food security was a huge opportunity for Australian agriculture, particularly if Chinese and other foreign capital could be channelled into big projects in northern Australia.

“It’s without a doubt the century of food and water security and we have vast tracts of largely undeveloped agricultural land in the north, and an enormous ­opportunity in the established areas with the application of more technology and better water management to collectively double the output from Australia,” Mr Robb said, adding he had been taking the argument to investors in Asia and the Persian Gulf states.

“What we don’t have, and they do have, is capital, and they also have growing demand.”

Australian Food and Grocery Council chief Gary Dawson said the Team Australia approach was desperately needed.

“The opportunity is real but it won’t be realised unless we lift our game,” Mr Dawson said.

“Twiggy (Mr Forrest) is right when he says Australian food is just not visible on Chinese supermarket shelves — and that’s backed by the trade stats showing our share of China’s food imports has halved over the past decade.

“Australia’s opportunity is to provide premium-priced, high quality food backed by some of the highest food safety standards in the world, to the growing cadre of wealthy consumers willing to pay a premium for it.”

Courtesy of The Australian

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