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Thursday, 8 June 1989
Page: 3668


Senator COOK —On Tuesday Senator Boswell asked me, in my capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, a question concerning frozen banana prawns being traded to Japan. I have given a copy of the answer provided by the Minister to Senator Boswell, but as it is a three-page answer I seek leave to incorporate it in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The answer read as follows-

Exports of prawns from Australia to Japan in 1981-82 totalled 13,168 tonnes, while in 1986-87, there were 9,257 tonnes exported

some stocks of ocean-caught prawns are being held in cold-stores in Northern Australia. This is not unusual.

Quality of the product is not the major barrier to sales of Australian prawns to Japan.

There has been a large expansion of imports of white prawns from China, Indonesia and Thailand into Japan, associated particularly with the enormous growth of aquaculture in those countries.

At the end of March there were 92,000 tonnes of prawns still held in Japanese cold storage from last year

consumption fell away during the illness of the Emperor and the mourning period which followed his death.

Japanese companies are attempting to reduce excess holdings, especially of large size prawns.

The decline in trade to Japan therefore has much less to do with inappropriate export standards

Product assessed for export is rejected if the aggregate defects exceed a total of 15% (not 37% as stated by Senator Boswell)

existing export standards for fish were brought into effect in 1985 with the promulgation of the Fish Orders (amended in 1988 as the Export Control (Fish) Orders)

a review of the export standard for frozen prawns in 1988 resulted in the tightening of the size grade tolerance from 25% defective (ie outside the declared grade) to 15%

this change was made in accordance with broad industry views.

Government policy is to place greater responsibility for compliance with regulations onto industry, and to avoid interference in matters of a strictly commercial nature

the concerns raised by the honourable senator reflect difficulties experienced by the industry to meet commercial demands, and are not relevant to product wholesomeness or truth in labelling which are the objectives of export controls administered by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service.

If the fishing industry desires a review of the current export standards, I will be happy to arrange that

however, the comments received from industry in 1987 and 1988 would suggest that the export standard meets the needs of the export industry

a tighter grade standard would very likely result in higher costs for Australian exporters and therefore a widening of the cost differential between us and our competitors.

The Government is actively encouraging the adoption of quality assurance and Total Quality Management principles by the food industry

the benefits include reduced inspection costs, greater product quality assurance and improved competitiveness

it is open to all fish exporters to pursue this approach, and AQIS officers can assist in explaining the systems and initiating Approved Quality Assurance arrangements.

BACKGROUND

Exports of prawns to Japan since 1982 have been as follows:

1981-82

1982-83

1983-84

1984-85

1985-86

1986-87

1987-88

Quantity (tonnes)

Japan ...

13168

12162

10526

10429

11540

9257

10817

Total ...

15641

13810

14605

12267

13095

12919

15229

Value $M

Japan ...

120.6

142.0

117.6

128.0

189.7

168.0

200.9

Total ...

141.0

159.6

B161.5

149.9

207.0

218.2

261.4

Source: ABS (1988), Foreign Trade, Australia, Exports: 1986-87, Ct. No. 5436.0, Canberra (and previous issues)

It is unlikely that further discounting of Australian white prawns will result in significantly higher sales to the Japanese market

exporters need to seek alternative markets possibly emphasizing the superiority of ocean-caught prawns over aquaculture produce.