THE GRAINS industry has applauded the decision by new Federal Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud to visit India to discuss the thorny issue of the Asian giant’s recent decision to impose a 30 per cent import tariff on chickpeas and lentils.
The tariff will have a massive impact on the profitability of the Australian pulse sector, with India the largest market for both Aussie chickpeas and lentils, taking close to $1.3 billion worth of the two crops last season.
Mr Littleproud said he was acting on concerns from Australian growers.
“Whilst we recognise India is within its rights under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to raise its tariffs, it makes life extremely tough for farmers when the returns change after a crop is planted,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Growers need certainty to make decisions which affect their lives.”
The initial priority will be getting clarity in regards to product currently on its way to India.
Pulse Australia estimates 83,000 tonnes of chickpeas worth $58 million is currently at sea destined for India.
Wayne Newton, president of the grains section of AgForce said it was good to see government support on the matter.
“The news of the tariff has been a devastating blow for farmers in Queensland, where chickpeas are a massive part of the crop rotation,” Mr Newton said.
“Queensland is Australia’s largest chickpea producing state and the crop has been our fastest growing export product in recent years, increasing by more than 300 per cent in 2016/17 to be worth almost $800 million, largely through demand from India,” he said.
He said a push to see the stocks currently on the water exempted from the tariff should be the priority for the government.
Further down the track, Mr Newton said he hoped there would be clarity on the situation prior to the upcoming winter plant.
“Hopefully because of the timing of the introduction of the tariff we have some certainty by the planting window, which in this part of the world is in April – May.”
He said there had been talk among some farmers that the drop in prices may lead to them planting less of the crop, however he said many had pushed rotations hard in recent years due to the high prices on offer.
NSW Farmers’ Grains Committee chair, Rebecca Reardon urged Mr Littleproud to be firm in discussions with his Indian counterparts.
“The new minister has given assurances to farming groups that he will stand up for the interests of Australian chickpea growers,” Ms Reardon said.
“We hope the minister’s rhetoric is backed up with action when his boots are on the ground”, Mrs Reardon said.
Andrew Weidemann, chairman of Grain Producers Australia (GPA) said exporters would be the most impacted by the tariff in the short term, but said in the long term the impost hurt the entire industry.
“Many farmers already had contracts locked in, but this is very tough for exporters if they are forced to take this hit,” Mr Weidemann said.
“Down the track it will have flow on effects on pricing that will hurt growers and Australia’s pulse industry as a whole.”