Australian and European farmers have a lot in common.
We share values in food production, and we have close cultural and social ties, with many Australian producers descending directly from European farmers.
So why is it necessary to take a delegation of 11 Australian farmers to Europe?
The answer is simple. Ahead of the upcoming free trade negotiations between Australia and the European Union (EU), we as Australian farmers need to find out more about what matters to European farmers and customers to better pitch our farm products.
Trade negotiations are difficult.
They take a lot of time – sometimes more than a decade – and negotiators from different countries talk often about the same concepts and ideas using different words.
This can lead to confusion and can, in rare occasions, make or break a deal.
The EU is a large market – with more than 510 million customers, Australian agriculture cannot afford to risk confusion during the upcoming free trade talks.
Agriculture is a particularly messy commodity in trade negotiations.
What we eat matters to us, not just on an economic but also on an emotional level.
Farmers represent the soul of a country – who could imagine the Swiss or Austrian Alps without dairy cows grazing or central Australia without Akubra wearing cattle farmers?
In addition, the EU formed in the 1950s to not only prevent war but to also ensure food security after the terrible famine following the Second World War.
This puts food squarely in the spotlight of any EU trade deal.
We must also take the opportunity to explain the differences in our production systems so that unsuitable regulatory and import requirements are not applied to our products
We are now at the very beginning of the trade negotiations – the European Commission has concluded a scoping study about the impacts of a free trade deal between Australia and the EU, but negotiations have not yet officially commenced. Now is the time to find out what perceptions Europeans have of Australian farming systems and to develop a Team Australia agriculture approach to address questions Europeans might have.
We need to ensure that all Australian farm representatives will use the same words and messages when talking to Europeans during trade negotiations – and we need to use the same words used by the EU to avoid confusion.
We are proud of what we produce here in Australia, and we would love to share our products with European customers.
While Australia will certainly never be able to compete in terms of quantity of goods, we havae fabulous produce to offer which is counter-seasonal to European food production.
We are also proud of how we produce food products here in Australia, but we cannot take our clean, green image for granted.
Explaining our differences
We are able to share our experiences as farmers in Australia to help European and British farmers deal with the challenges they face and vice versa.
We must also take the opportunity to explain the differences in our production systems so that unsuitable regulatory and import requirements are not applied to our products and that there are different ways to achieve the same desired outcomes in terms of food safety, environmental conservation and protection and plant and animal health.
Next week I’ll be with 10 Australian farmers in Berlin, London and Brussels on a listening tour to find out more about what matters to European customers.
We’ll be a diverse bunch.
We have young farmers, experienced farmers, blueberry farmers, grain growers and cattle graziers.
Together, we will develop an understanding of issues in agriculture that will come up in the free trade negotiations.
We’ll commence to find the right words to ensure European markets understand Australian agriculture for what it is.
We will need a united voice as Australian farmers when preparing for the free trade negotiations with the EU – in short, we need a team Australian agriculture approach.
- Fiona Simson is president of the National Farmers’ Federation and a Liverpool Plains grain and livestock producer.