Australia’s agriculture minister will promote the country’s sustainability credentials which he says need an image overhaul as he tries to secure the best deal for Aussie farmers during a trade mission to the UK and Europe.
In a joint industry-government push to maintain momentum around the Australia-UK free trade agreements, Murray Watt told AAP that Australia’s sustainability record was key to the success of the country’s $72 billion ag export market.
“Increasingly our exports are dependent on demonstrating we are sustainable producers of produce,” Senator Watt said.
“Unfortunately … because of the former federal government’s poor record on climate change and sustainability, a view started forming in other parts of the world that we weren’t doing enough.
“We’re keen to demonstrate that things have changed in Australia.”
Senator Watt said agriculture would play a role in the Albanese government’s commitment to an emissions reduction target of 43 per cent by 2030.
“Australian farmers everywhere are doing really good things on sustainability and I want to make sure the world knows that,” he said.
But the coalition has condemned the minister’s comments on Australia’s image around the environment and sustainability.
Opposition trade spokesman Kevin Hogan said any negativity could undermine Australia’s negotiating position for the trade deal with the EU.
“His negativity about Australian agriculture’s sustainability credentials only serves to weaken our negotiating position on agriculture market access, and talk down the sustainability credentials of the Australian farmers.”
Australia is yet to negotiate the terms of the agreement with the European Union.
National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson has joined Senator Watt on the trip.
The pair will visit Germany to promote the Australia-EU free trade agreement, with hopes a deal will be ratified in the next 12 months.
Senator Watt and Ms Simson will meet with the EU trade commissioner, the EU agriculture minister and a number of European agriculture ministers.
“I’m there just to keep pushing for the best possible deal for Australian producers,” Senator Watt said.
“There’s got to be meaningful improvements in the quantity and the value of Australian product that can be exported to the EU.”
The trip follows Trade Minister Don Farrell’s visit late last year, and will also see Senator Watt join some 80 agriculture ministers at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture in Berlin.
Senator Watt will also discuss with British politicians the UK-Australian free trade deal, which will scrap almost all taxes on Australian products entering Britain including meat, dairy, sugar and wine.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his British counterpart Rishi Sunak have agreed the deal should be operational by the first quarter of this year.
“I’m confident that we’re going to achieve that but I’m wanting to make sure that there’s no slippage,” Senator Watt said of the legislation which has already passed Britain’s House of Commons.
However, opposition from some British farmers has resulted in political resistance.
“My message is that this is a good deal for both countries and for producers in both countries,” Senator Watt told AAP.
University of Technology Sydney chief economist Tim Harcourt, formerly of the Australian Trade and Investment Commission, said the visit was important.
“It’s always good to have things in principle but you’ve got to have the presence of a minister to get it going,” Professor Harcourt told AAP.
“Agriculture has been a real thorn in our side for many years with European protectionism.
“Perhaps we can see the finish line and Australian farmers can get a fair go.”
(Australian Associated Press)