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Speech by Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation to open the Marine Stewardship Council seminar 'Exporting Seafood to Europe: Opportunities and practicalities for Australian industry': Parliament House, Canberra: 25 May 2005



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To open the Marine Stewardship Council seminar Exporting seafood to Europe: Opportunities and practicalities for Australian industry

Parliament House, Canberra - 25 May 2005

Thanks very much, Duncan. I suspect most of you are a bit like me; you've come along for the hoki and the ice fish. And your secondary reason is to look at the European market!

But it is good to see so many of the significant players in the private industry here as well as a lot of people from Canberra, researchers and administrators, to look at ways we can benefit more from the EU seafood market.

And congratulations to you, Duncan, and to the Marine Stewardship Council, for this particular initiative.

I think it is very, very timely that we're looking at this subject at this particular time. Certainly, the EU seafood market, as you may well know, has grown fairly rapidly over the past decade, and it is now the world's leading seafood import destination. The European seafood import bill has risen to more than $40 billion a year.

There are several fairly compelling reasons on why this trend will continue in the medium-to-long term.

You'll know that last May, the EU expanded yet again to more than 450 million people with the addition of the 10 new member states. And with three more countries waiting to join, the potential population of the EU could be something like 550 million people. And I think all of you in marketing will understand that that's the sort of market you'd almost die for.

Coupled with the expanding consumer base, is the rise in Europe in consumer demand for seafood. Changing preferences are suggesting to the health-conscious individuals that seafood is the right alternative source of protein. And there's also the long-term increase in wealth in the European Union itself and that is again leading for a real demand for high-value seafood products, such as prawns and lobster.

And I've just been talking to my friend from Tasmania and he tells me that at the Brussels seafood fair, their lobster sales have already had a real boost with some new of the consumers in Europe. And it's that high value Australian seafood, lobsters, prawns and abalone, that I think will find a very, very attractive market in Europe.

We should have an edge in Europe because our reputation, of course, is one as a producer of clean and green seafood products. The sophisticated European consumers these days are increasingly seeking assurances that the food they eat is sourced in an

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environmentally friendly way. And this is where the Marine Stewardship Council of course has a very important role-in assuring consumers and customers of the Australian industry's very high environmental standards.

The strategic assessments that we do under the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) do give a government imprimatur to the management arrangements for the fishery. Not quite an MSC qualification, but certainly the management arrangements of particular fisheries do get that tick off under the EPBC strategic assessment.

I would hope that it's not a great leap of faith from those EPBC strategic assessments to a full MSC accreditation. And I look forward to perhaps more work being done to bring a closer alignment between the work that's done on the EPBC assessments and the work that could be used to help with MSC certification.

I acknowledge that they're a different approach, but I think some of the work that is done in the EPBC assessments could well be used as part of the process that you have to go through to get the MSC certification.

Traditionally, our exports in seafood from Australia have favoured the Asian area, obviously because of their closeness and ease of access. However, as any of you in the marketing of seafood will know, that reliance on one particular market does make us especially vulnerable to economic downturns in those key economies. The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic of 2003, for example, provides a very harsh reminder of the need for us to diversify our export market options.

Access to the EU allows exporters to diversify their risks more evenly right across the whole of the world markets. And this has become more of an issue for Australia as our dollar gains value against the other major currencies, reducing margins for our exporters across the board.

And several of our key export markets - Hong Kong, the United States, China, and Japan, to a lesser extent - are all tied to the US dollar's performance. And since 2001, the Australian dollar has appreciated by about 58 per cent against the US dollar, and 36 per

cent against the yen. But, on the other hand, the euro has remained relatively stable against the Australian dollar, depreciating by only 11 per cent, and it has significantly outperformed the US dollar. This has made exports to the European Union relatively more competitive in the past four years.

And the countercyclical nature of the euro compared to the US dollar, I think will provide market opportunities for all Australian exporters in times when the US currency is underperforming.

To date, however, only a small percentage of our seafood exports have targeted the European market, and that's understandable given the historically strong Asian markets and the difficulty that we've had in breaking into the European market.

The European Union, as you know, has a broad trade protectionist policy across all sectors, with very stringent regulatory and import regimes for seafood products. It's also a difficult market, I'm told, in which to operate. However, for those reasons I mentioned before, this should not deter our industry from pursuing those greater export returns. The potential rewards for Australian exporters are simply too great for us to ignore Europe.

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For its part, the Australian Government recognises the challenges, and we're determined to deliver strong support to prospective and existing exporters. And our support, of course, includes providing strong economic management, encouraging infrastructure, tax, trade and labour market reform. And if we can contribute in those ways it gives a great boost and a great base for industry to get moving into the European market.

More exporting companies mean real positives for the Australian economy. They're good for strengthening the fishing industry and they're very good for creating employment in the industry - particularly in country Australia.

We've been working with industry to try to reduce and eliminate some of the trade-distorting tariff and non-tariff barriers that have prevented free movement of seafood in the international marketplace.

Our efforts include striving for a very positive conclusion to the WTO Doha Round negotiations and seeking new market access opportunities through free trade agreements in other countries.

Bilateral and regional trade agreements are also a very important part of our Government's agenda, and they complement the wide trade reform objectives. I'm pleased to say that we've had a fair amount of success in this area recently with the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement (USFTA).

That agreement, I think, is a good example of how we are helping Australian exporters. The agreement has abolished some 48 tariffs that previously applied to the seafood sector. And, at the pointy end, this means tariff cuts of up to 35 per cent, and results in direct profits for Australian seafood exporters.

We have gained similar results through our free trade agreement with Thailand; although; with Thailand, there's a longer implementation period.

We've also formally begun free trade negotiations with China, the 10 ASEAN nations and with the United Arab Emirates. And we've announced our intention to undertake a pre-FTA scoping study with Japan.

These fairly comprehensive negotiations will cover all Australian industries and provide a one-off opportunity to negotiate lower tariffs and getting rid of other technical trade barriers.

Can I commend the seafood industry for its involvement in these processes? I'm particularly grateful for the work ASIC and others have done in the free trade agreements, and in achieving, what I think, has been a very good result for the industry.

We've made a commitment as a Government to double the number of Australian export businesses by 2006, and industry is well on the road to achieving this goal.

And, although our seafood industry is already a very significant exporter, and more advanced than many other sectors, we do want to help businesses where there are opportunities.

Our European Union export guide which we titled A$40 Billion Reasons to Access the EU Seafood Market, is part of that commitment that the Government has.

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The EU, as you know, has a uniform set of rules under its Common Fisheries Policy. Rules that govern all aspects of the fishing industry; including import conditions, rules and regulations. And that guide A$40 Billion Reasons to Access the EU Seafood Market does

help to demystify what does need to be done to gain access to the market and highlights the potential opportunities for Australian exporters.

This guide provides small to medium-sized seafood producers with the facts that they need to know, including the base information on the EU market, recent market trends and Australia's current export performance.

It's also a bit of a guide on how to do business in the European Union, and it outlines the export documentation and quality procedures that are required both in Australia and the European Union itself.

I hope all of you have seen that guide, we do have copies here, Russ has got one there, thanks Russ. But it is available for those of you who have not come across it.

And that guide is part of a broader strategy that we have to provide the industry with market information on several industry-identified target seafood markets. That particular guide, which I have to say, ASIC was very instrumental in helping put together, is the second of the guides in this series, the first one was one which was called A$34 Billion Reasons to Access the US Seafood Market. Those 34 billion reasons of course are all Australian dollars.

In future publications, my department's Market Access and Trade area will examine similar guides for Hong Kong, the Chinese market and, importantly, the Middle East seafood market.

Ladies and gentlemen, the EU seafood market is continuing to grow in the medium-to-long term. All of the signs are there: the expanding market, the falling domestic seafood production in the European Union, changing consumer preferences, an affluent ageing demography and strong European currencies. All of that makes me confident that the government's package of programs will provide support to Australian producers, and the support that producers need to take advantage of those opportunities.

I have great confidence in the Australian seafood industry. There are some real entrepreneurs, some very, very successful businessmen involved in the seafood industry, and particularly in the marketing and export of the product, and I see us going on from strength to strength in our export and serving of the European Union.

Again welcome to Parliament House. It's not quite my room, I mean the Government and the people of Australia actually own it, but I'm pleased to be able to help you facilitate access to it.

Again, Duncan, congratulations to you and the MSC organisation for putting on this seminar in what I think is a most fortuitous timing in the cycle of export and market development.

Congratulations.

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© Commonwealth of Australia 2002-2005 | Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry | Other DAFF Ministers | Prime Minister

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