The China Australia Free Trade Agreement has finally come into force and while some Australian farmers might be rejoicing, the deal remains meaningless for stone-fruit growers.
The official start of the ChAFTA was on Sunday, December 20.
The deal is supposed to deliver immediate benefits to exporters across Australia by saving them millions of dollars in extra tariff payments, however stone-fruit exporters cannot get access to the market in China and the progress does not change their business outlook.
Australia is unable to obtain protocols on air freight and pest eradication for fruit export to China, therefore stone-fruit exporters in Victoria, which produces 90 per cent of the country’s stone-fruit exports, are missing out on a substantial slice of the market — a market of almost 1.4billion people.
Australian Horticulture Exporters’ Association executive director Michelle Christoe said the ChFTA was of great benefit to Australian producers because they could compete more effectively in a critical market.
‘‘China’s import volumes has doubled in the last five years but in that time Australia’s share of that trade has been negligible,’’ Ms Christoe said.
‘‘Australia hasn’t been able to maximise its opportunities without these FTAs.’’
Ms Christoe said Australia’s competitors, such as New Zealand, Chile and Peru, were ‘‘very export-heavy’’ and Australia needed to be more competitive.
Australia had access to China for exports of citrus, table grapes, cherries and most recently apples, Ms Christoe said.
Citrus Australia chief executive officer Judith Damiani said China had become the highest valued export market for Australian citrus this year, reaching $52.6million by the end of October, up 71 per cent from 2014.
While the ChFTA is a win for citrus exporters, stone-fruit exporters are urging the Federal Government to negotiate with China to open up its trade.
Australia does not have access to China for a lot of its other produce but the negotiations for stone fruit were critical, Ms Christoe said.
She said the industry was working closely with the Department of Agriculture and China to enable discussions but the process was lengthy because thousands of applications for export access were received by China every year.
Two weeks ago a delegation from China visited Victorian orchards to inspect growers’ operating systems.
Ms Christoe described this as a ‘‘positive sign’’ that the industry was moving forward and was hopeful that stone fruit exporters would soon have success to China.
‘‘Stone fruit has suffered in the market recently. The industry needs market access into countries in order to bring profits into the farm gate,’’ she said.
Agricultural exports to China will see a second round of tariff cuts from January 2016.