Opinion

View From the Paddock: Diplomacy dialled in for ag

By Trent Thorne
May 8 2022 - 2:00am
Trent Thorne, agribusiness lawyer

To state the bleeding obvious, international trade is in a state of considerable flux at the moment - the reverberations of COVID supply chain chaos are still being felt, inflation is on a tear the world over, and the war in Ukraine is realigning and consolidating trading blocs.

As a result, for a trade-exposed nation such as Australia, which exports around 72 percent of the total value of agricultural, fisheries and forestry production annually, international trade is proving to be more important than ever.

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The fact that the current Coalition government is our most trade focused government in history is an often overlooked blessing.

During the nine-year term of the current government, it has managed to square away nine trade agreements with Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Peru, Indonesia, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, UK and India.

A deal with the EU was also close to being finalised until a certain nuclear submarine deal scuttled the plan for the time being, largely due to some late Gallic gear grinding.

This deal strike rate is even more remarkable given the slow pace that these agreements have traditionally taken to reach a conclusion - diplomacy and détente are a genteel art to be sure.

In this regard, over the preceding 30 years, Australia only managed to ink seven trade deals with NZ, Singapore, USA, Thailand, Chile, ASEAN and Malaysia.

Some of the agreements are yet to hit their stride, but in the long run, they will prove to be net positive for Australian agricultural producers.

The new FTAs with the UK and India, while yet to formally kick off, will pick up some of the slack that has resulted from the rejection of our ag commodities by China.

Also, I am not concerned with the manner in which the federal government has treated the Chinese over the last two years.

The government's anxieties that were raised during the early stages of the pandemic were entirely reasonable, and the CCP may have done us an enormous favour in rejecting some of our commodities on trumped up biosecurity grounds, as it has forced us to look further afield and diversify our markets.

In fact, when I look across the ditch and see how exposed the NZ economy is to Chinese exports (33 percent of total exports), I am certain that time will prove our forced trade diversification to be a prudent strategy.

JK Galbraith once famously said that 'there are few ironclad rules of diplomacy, but to one there is no exception. When an official reports that talks were useful, it can safely be concluded that nothing was accomplished'.

Well, no one can accuse the Coalition government that nothing was accomplished on the trade front - they have undoubtedly increased opportunities across the board for Australian primary producers.

- Trent Thorne, agribusiness lawyer

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