Farmers' plea to cut curbs on trade

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

The National Farmers' Federation has taken a swipe at moves by key Asian trading partners to introduce trade restrictions and urged the Federal Government to break down market barriers.

NFF president Duncan Fraser said Australian farmers were operating on a very uneven playing field because of the tactics used by some countries in the region.

Mr Fraser said a recent report by the European Union showed an increase in potentially trade-restrictive measures imposed by trading partners.

The report said 154 new measures were adopted in the 13 months to June, with the merging economies of Indonesia, India and China among the worst offenders.

Indonesia was singled out for "issuing numerous new laws and regulations that have a direct impact on foreign trade and investment", including a highly trade-restrictive law on food.

"Imports and exports of foods are only allowed if the food products are not available or are needed in the country," the report said. "The law provides for an instrument for restricting trade of all kinds of food products."

Mr Fraser warned farmers could not maximise the opportunities identified in the What Asia Wants report, released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, if trade barriers remained in place.

"To capitalise on the Asian opportunity, the Government must reduce market barriers and commit to comprehensive free trade agreements," he said.

However, the NFF warned Prime Minister Tony Abbott not to sign a FTA with China at any cost after he committed the Government to concluding a deal within 12 months.

Foreign investment is likely to become a bargaining chip in the talks, with China targeting Foreign Investment Review Board regulations on purchases by state-owned entities.

Mr Fraser said foreign investment was positive for agriculture provided it was "in the national interest" and done in an open and transparent way.

What Asia Wants predicted big increases in consumption of dairy, beef, sheep meat and sugar as China's middle class emerged in the decades to 2050.

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