NFF seeks new strategy for Europe

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National Farmers Federation president Fiona Nash and Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Anne Ruston in the European Union.
Camera IconNational Farmers Federation president Fiona Nash and Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Anne Ruston in the European Union. Credit: NFF

The National Farmers Federation has called for a united branding strategy to promote Australian agriculture industry as clean, green and sustainable, as the Federal Government tries to thrash out the EU-Australia free trade agreement.

Speaking at the WAFarmers Vitality 2018 conference in Perth last week, NFF trade and economics general manager Scott Kompo-Harms said Australia faced an uphill battle promoting its products in the EU.

“Australian products are not very well known in Europe,” he said.

“The perception on the ground in Europe is we also have lower standards ... there is a big role for us, I say that as a unified industry, to counter these misconceptions.

“We need to be proactive and proud in promoting our quality.

“One suggestion was to talk about our sunny country, our healthy lifestyles and how our food and agriculture products contribute to that ... there are many other concepts we can use but we need something.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the plan for a free trade agreement with the EU in November 2015, with an initial scoping study originally set to end by 2016.

However, timing slipped and negotiations are expected to drag on until at least 2019.

Mr Kompo-Scott said Australian farmers needed European consumers on their side if the trade deal was to progress.

“They are the voices we need to be pushing our case, because at least they have some clout with the officials on the other side of the negotiations,” he said.

“Lean, green and sustainable is a bare minimum in Europe ... we need to be proactive and proud in promoting our quality.

“We need to make sure we are meeting the needs of our consumers ... being proactive as an industry in addressing what our consumers want to address.”

NFF led a 12-day reconnaissance mission to the EU and UK last month, where the group attended agriculture trade fair Green Week in Berlin, met Australian ambassadors and high commissioners, peak agricultural bodies, European and British agribusinesses and industry associations.

NFF president Fiona Simson said the UK’s exit from the EU represented opportunities for Australian exports, but agreed that a united front was needed.

“On behalf of Team Australian Agriculture, our brief is to better acquaint ourselves with the British and European markets from a farmers’ perspective,” she said.

“Our aim was to identify and formalise relationships with EU and UK industry associations that have common interests with Australian producers.”

Mr Kompo-Harms said farmers in the EU were largely sceptical of the trade deal and concerned Australian meat would flood the market.

“It boils down to the fact that UK farmers and European farmers are big beef farmers,” he said.

“They are not happy about the agreement because they fear a flood of product coming in from countries that have lower environmental and welfare standards and hence, are seen as comparing unfairly.”

At the conference, former Sheep Producers Australia president Jeff Murray questioned whether all agricultural industries would benefit from the trade deal. “The major concern the Europeans had was they were scared that the big country down there (Australia) was going to flood their market,” he said,

“I am particularly concerned the same thing might happen ... with the sheepmeat quota, we might be traded off for sugar, cotton or some other thing.

“They have the power and the lesser industries will be traded off to get what the major ones want, we want to make sure we are all on a level playing field.”

Mr Kompo-Harms said NFF wanted to consult farmers from a wide range of industries, and encouraged farmers to get in touch. “We want to make sure we have a co-ordinated strategy so we can avoid being picked off one by one, as the Europeans will no doubt try to do,” he said.

Delegates on the EU tour included NFF president Fiona Simson, NFF board member and Cattle Council of Australia vice- president Tony Hegarty, Sheep Producers Australia board member John Wallace, Australian Dairy Farmers president Terry Richardson, Grain Growers Limited trade manager Luke Mathews, Canegrowers head of economics Warren Males, Victorial Farmers Federation horticulture section president Emma Germano, Tasmanian-based export and supply chain consultant Alison Horswill, NSW Farmers Association’s Rachel Nicoll, NFF policy officer Maximiliane Hanft and Mr Kompo-Harms.

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