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Fourth Australian Fresh Stone Fruit Industry Conference, Ballina, NSW, 11 August 1998: address to open.



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Australian Department of Primary Industries & Energy

 

Senator The Hon Judith Troeth

Parliamentary Secretary for Primary Industries and Energy

 

Address to open the fourth Australian Fresh Stone Fruit Industry Conference,

Ballina, NSW, 11 August 1998

 

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

 

It is a pleasure to be invited to officially open the fourth Australian Fresh Stone Fruit Industry Conference.

 

As Parliamentary Secretary for Primary Industries and Energy, I have direct responsibility for horticultural issues, as well as agricultural and veterinary chemicals, R&D management and levies on primary industries.

 

Today, I would like to outline some of the Federal Government's initiatives that will help Australian horticulture achieve its full potential.

 

The Fresh Stone Fruit Industry

 

But before I do so, I would just like to make a few comments about your important industry.

 

Australia's fresh stone fruit industry comprises almost 3,000 producers with production occurring in all states.

 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, preliminary data shows production of fresh stone fruit in 1997-98 was 72,500 tonnes.

 

The wholesale value of fresh stone fruit sold on the domestic market is $153 million.

 

From the Commonwealth's perspective, your industry's export performance is of major importance.

 

In 1996-97, 7,000 tonnes of peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums were exported earning revenue of almost $18 million

 

• this represents around 10 per cent of total production.

 

Although plum exports represent about 20-25 per cent of total production

 

• 5,400 tonnes of plums, valued at $12 million, were exported in 1996-97.

 

It is pleasing to see the industry has developed significant markets in Asia, with the major destinations for exports being Hong Kong, Si ngapore, Taiwan and Malaysia.

 

The Government strongly believes that increasing exports is the key to the horticulture industry achieving its full potential.

 

Australia has the geographic area, soils and climate to grow a wide range of horticultural products and supply 'out-of-season' produce to northern hemisphere countries.

 

In addition, Australia has a well-developed horticultural infrastructure that will enable us to expand these exports.

 

An important initiative of the fresh stone fruit industry is to participate in both the Australian Horticultural Corporation and the Horticultural Research and Development Corporation .

 

I will comment later on the proposal to increase levy rates for both Corporations.

 

Initiatives

 

The Government has put in place a number of initiatives to benefit the horticultural sector - including fresh stone fruit growers. These initiatives both support and complement the plan and initiatives you have developed for the stone fruit industry.

 

Firstly, three weeks ago, the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, John Anderson , launched the Action Plan for Australian Agriculture

 

• this important milestone sets out a vision for Australian agriculture over the next ten years and will help the sector realise its true potential

 

• t he Plan will help ensure Australian agriculture is based on profitable, competitive and sustainable family farm businesses that are world leaders in efficient production techniques, product quality, innovation and the ability to supply and respond to market needs

 

• I must, however, emphasise that the Plan is a process, not a product - that is, the Plan will be reviewed annually and will continue to evolve to meet changing circumstances. It is a plan developed by industry for industry and agricultural and horticultural producers will have the opportunity to provide feedback and input as it evolves.

 

• the Plan is being distributed to 114,000 farm businesses across Australia. And, in addition, for those who may not receive a copy, advertisements will appear in the rural press letting people know how to obtain one. Also, you can access the Plan on the Internet through the Department of Primary Industries and Energy home page - 'PIENET'.

 

As I said, the plan is overarching across agriculture, but it supports the initiatives taken by individual industries such as your own. When you receive your copy of the plan, I would encourage you all to study it and see how it applies to your operation.

Supermarket To Asia

 

Another Government initiative that promises significant benefits to rural and regional Australia is the 'Supermarket to Asia' program.

 

The Supermarket to Asia Council , chaired by the Prime Minister, brings together industry and Government leaders to provide the leadership and drive to help secure a globally competitive and sustainable Australian food industry which is able to win markets in Asia in competition with the world's best agri-food exporters.

 

The Council is committed to the goal of increasing Australia's agri-food exports to Asia from $10 billion in 1996-97 to $16 billion by the year 2001, and to encourage at least another 2,000 agri-food businesses to export their produce to Asia

 

• this is expected to create more than 10,00 0 jobs in the Australian economy, including in rural and regional Australia.

 

An example of a successful project in the program, which relates to the stone fruit industry, is the Panda Ranch Marketing project in NSW.

 

The project is a joint venture betwe en a Taiwaneese fruit importing company, Panda Ranch Taiwan Cooperative and growers from the Thirlmere area in NSW, to develop and sell a specific type of white flesh nectarine to China, Singapore and Taiwan.

 

The opportunity to market white flesh nectarines in Asia is thought to be very large. For instance, the Australian Horticultural Corporation has estimated the full market potential for stone fruit in Asia to be around A$600 million a year.

 

With Australian exports of peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums in 1996-97 amounting to around $18 million or 10 per cent of total production, the AHC statistics demonstrate there are a lot of opportunities in the international stone fruit market.

 

The Panda Ranch project recognises the market potential of the white flesh nectarine market in China, Singapore and Taiwan and is establishing a trading network between Australia and these countries.

 

Also under the Supermarket to Asia initiative air and sea freight export councils are being established at major export hubs across Australia, with seed funding from the Federal Government

 

• they bring together State Governments, port or airport managers, transport providers and exporters to work together to streamline the export chain.

 

I understand food safety is one of the matters that will be discussed at this Conference

 

• with Australia's reputation for supplying safe, high quality food being such an important selling point with its overseas customers, it is important that we maintain and enhance our ability to deal with food safety incidents

 

• Minister Anderson is chairing a high level government/industry group under the Supermarket to Asia Council to oversee the implementation of food safety emergency management plans across primary industry sectors

 

• for exampl e, an emergency management plan for horticulture is being developed by the Horticulture 2000 Group for consultation and consideration by industry.

 

As a Supermarket to Asia initiative, the Department of Primary Industries and Energy has arranged for your Conference Satchel to contain a flier on the book Competitive Performance and also a brochure on the book Chains of Success .

 

The book: Chains of Success , to be released shortly, looks at 10 Australian and international case studies on how business success in agri-food trade depends more and more on developing effective domestic and international partnerships with others in the supply chain

 

• for example, the book analyses the successful strategies in Asian markets of Botman International, a Dutch fruit an d vegetable exporter, which has a turnover of $80 million

 

• Botman is a value-adding export agency which manages the supply-chain from producer to consumer. It sources products from countries as diverse as New Zealand and Spain and supplies its customers all year round.

 

The book: Competitive Performance , helps new and emerging exporters to benefit from the experiences of others and avoid many of the traps that can affect new players

 

• it features the real life experiences of 13 Australian agri-food co mpanies, including eight from the horticultural sector

 

On the quarantine and AQIS front, which is integral to your interests as producers and exporters, AQIS has developed the 'single electronic window' so exporters can meet their quarantine and customs clearance requirements in one go

 

• the single window wi ll be available to horticultural industries when they connect to AQIS's electronic export documentation system - EXDOC.

 

As well, the Government has also recently established the Office of the Chief Plant Protection Officer within the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service

 

• the Office will be responsible for the surveillance and monitoring of pest and disease incursions and, perhaps most importantly, coordinate the response to any emergencies.

 

Work is also being undertaken to establish an Austral ian Plant Health Council by the end of the year which will involve industry in developing and coordinating plant health policy.

 

On 20 July, I launched the National Strategy for the Management of Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals. (A downloadable PDF file on the strategy can be accessed at the ARMCANZ website.)

 

The Strategy was developed co-operatively by industry, government and public interest groups to ensure we use our agricultural and veterinary chemicals in a way which minimises the risks to health, the environment and trade.

 

As a consumer, I want to be confident the food, fibre and plant material I buy does not contain harmful chemical residues. Also, I want to be sure chemicals will not damage our environment or harm people's health.

 

Encouraging best practice management in the use of agricultural and veterinary chemicals achieves long-term sustainability in our agricultural sector and contributes to national prosperity.

 

Complementary to this, the Horticulture 2000 Group, which I chair, has also developed and released a chemical residue management plan for horticulture

 

The plan identifies where chemical residue problems can occur through the supply chain, suggests actions to prevent contamination and proposes strategies to manage any incidents.

 

Australian Horticultural Corporation

 

The Australian Horticultural Corporation was established to help Australian horticultural industries achieve their full potential in overseas markets and to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of Australian h orticultural industries.

 

The fresh stone fruit industry is one of eight statutory levy-paying members of the Corporation.

 

Some important AHC initiatives include:

 

• the Horticultural Industry Market Access Committee, which is chaired by the AHC and draw s its membership from the Government and industry. The Market Access Committee helps the Government pursue improved market access for Australian horticultural products through both bilateral and multilateral negotiations; and

 

• the ‘Australia Fresh’, sch eme which is an umbrella brand and promotional support program with the aim of creating a preference for Australian fruit and vegetables in export markets.

 

I am pleased that the fresh stone fruit industry has taken advantage of these important AHC initia tives.

 

Research and Development (R&D)

 

The fresh stone fruit industry is one of 14 statutory levy-paying members of the Horticultural Research and Development Corporation.

 

The Government will continue to match the dollars raised by industry to fund research managed by the various R&D Corporations.

 

This funding partnership has proven over many years to benefit industry, researchers and the community. It is the best way to determine research priorities, allocate funding where it is most needed and encourage our industries to grow.

 

In 1996-97, overall funding to the R&D Corporations was $297 million, of which, industry contributed $142 million.

 

With regard to horticulture, the Government contributed $12 million to the Horticultural Research and Development Corporation.

 

This will increase this financial year to an estimated $13.5 million, reflecting the growing number of industries within the sector willing to contribute to research to help improve their long-term viability.

 

The Government is pleased to continue providing funding for R&D to help Australia's fresh stone fruit industry achieve its vision.

 

Stone fruit levy

 

Primary industry statutory marketing authorities, such as the AHC, and R&D corporations, such as the HRDC, were established at the request of producers to carry out tasks such as promotion and R&D on their behalf.

 

The Australian Fresh Stone Fruit Growers' Association has, with the support of the AHC and HRDC, put a proposal to the Government to increase its existing marketing and R&D levy.

 

The Association wants to increase the current levy of five cents per standard tray to 12 cents per standard tray, with eight cents payable to the AHC and four cents payable to the HRDC.

 

With stone fruit production forecast to increase substantially, the Association believes the five cent levy is too small to undertake the level of domestic and export promotion required, as well as commit R&D funds to important matters such as market development, food safety and fruit quality.

 

The Association believes increased funding on promotion and R&D is essential in maintaining the industry's profitability.

 

The Government has developed a set of principles to help improve the process of assessing industry requests for new and changed levies.

 

The Government has to be satisfied any proposal to change an existing levy has strong support amongst levy payers.

 

I hav e received representations from a number of levy payers opposing the proposed increase in the fresh stone fruit levy.

 

Before making a decision on the proposal, I have asked the Australian Fresh Stone Fruit Growers' Association to provide me with further information regarding the level of producer support for the levy increase across all states and regions.

 

Yesterday, here in Ballina, I met with the 22 members of the Australian Fresh Stone Fruit Growers' Association Executive Committee to hear first hand a range of views on the levy proposal.

 

Following those discussions, your Association has agreed, over the next few months, to undertake structured workshop discussions with growers to further address the industry plan, the levy proposal, the implementation timetable and the objections raised.

 

Market Access

 

A major challenge for the horticulture industry is the impact of Asia's financial crisis.

 

However, this issue must be put in perspective.

 

Data released recently by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show total Australian exports to key Asian markets fell by only 3 per cent in the first six months of 1998 compared to the corresponding period in 1997

 

• and this was offset by a 21 per cent increase over the same period in exports to non-Asian countrie s.

 

But, as the major overseas markets for fresh stone fruit are in Asia, the Asian financial crisis clearly presents difficulties for your industry.

 

The Australian Government has supported a number of initiatives designed to stabilise Asian economies an d ameliorate the impact on our export industries.

 

For example, the Government has made significant financial contributions to the International Monetary Fund packages that have been announced for Indonesia, South Korea and Thailand.

 

The Government has also agreed to extend export credit insurance cover on the National Interest Account to trade with South Korea and Indonesia, both to maintain trade flows and to match credit arrangements provided by our competitors.

 

The Government's aim is to encourage sustainable growth in these markets.

 

But challenges also provide opportunities.

 

Industries which are prepared to persevere in their efforts to foster trade with Asia stand to benefit substantially from the region's eventual economic resurgence.

 

I strongly encourage the horticultural industry to maintain its faith in Asia's enormous potential as an export market.

 

Conclusion

 

Be assured the Government is committed to maintaining low interest rates, low inflation and reforming our taxation system to provide Australian industry with an operating environment conducive to prosperity.

 

In spite of the challenges, such as the difficulties in Asia, I am certain horticulture has a great future and will continue to make a major contribution to the prosperity of rural Australia and earn valuable export revenue.

 

Governments and industry both have important roles to play in ensuring Australian horticulture is a sustainable, innovative and internationally competitive industry well into the next century.

 

From the Conference program, I see the theme of your delibera tions is ‘Fresh Directions for Fresh Stone Fruit’.

 

• I hope my thoughts today help you in your deliberations and discussions.

 

I congratulate the organisers for attracting such a large number of delegates and for putting together a comprehensive and info rmative program.

 

I wish all delegates a successful Conference.

 

It is now my pleasure to officially open the fourth Australian Fresh Stone Fruit Industry Conference.

 

 

 

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