THERE is solid optimism Australian beef will be able to overcome European Union farmer sensitivity around our red meat as free trade negotiations get underway.
In the wake of the European Commission giving the green light to start talks with Australia and New Zealand, red meat exporters are resolute beef access be included as a imperative component of a free trade agreement.
The beef industry has been working hard in the market to reassure European farmers our sector will not displace domestic production.
Meat and Livestock Australia’s business manager for Europe Josh Anderson said our industry had a positive presence in Europe and as the negotiations were launched would continue engaging with EU industry groups to collaborate on a mutually beneficial trading outcome.
“The fact is, the EU is not self-sufficient in either beef, sheepmeat or goatmeat production,” he said.
“By the year 2030, the EC estimates there will be a market shortfall of around 147,000 tonnes beef per year.
“European consumers desire high quality imported food and we know they already value Australia’s beef for its consistency and quality.”
Australia, as global supplier of fresh, safe, high quality red meat, had invested in dedicated supply chains to meet the EU consumer needs and would continue advocating the message that our industry was ideally positioned to help meet a portion of that demand in the future, Mr Anderson said.
Alan Oxley, principal of consultants ITS Global and one of Australia's most authoritative advisers on international trade, said farm lobby groups in Europe had certainly displayed reluctance to see their protected markets diminished - Germany and Italy in particular.
He agreed, however, this was gradually being overcome.
Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson agreed European consumers valued Australian meat products very highly for their consistent and predictable quality.
“Low volume import quotas have meant we haven’t always been able to meet demand, so we’re excited by the opportunity this could bring,” he said of the announcement this week that talks would begin within weeks.
The EC said trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand would provide EU businesses with a valuable entry point into the wider Asia-Pacific region and put European companies on an equal footing with those from the other countries in the areas that have signed up to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
Access to Europe's 510 billion consumers via an FTA could deliver a windfall of between $4.1 and 6.4 billion in gross domestic product for Australia by 2030, according to an EU scoping study published last year.
Mr Oxley said Australia’s main interest in a trade relationship with Europe was agriculture.
What might be attractive to Europe was the fact they were one of our biggest foreign investors, he said.
“We could grant them the same freedom to invest in Australia up to $1b, which we negotiated in other FTAs - frankly, I think it’s in our interests to grant that anyway,” he said.
Australia’s dairy industry, meanwhile, has urged the government to push back against excessive restrictions that could damage the value of dairy exports to EU countries, which already declined by 94.3 per cent over the 10-year period to 2016, from US$45 million to just US$2.3 million.
“It is vital that the FTA has benefits for both sides, considering the ease of access European dairy manufacturers have to the Australian market,” Australian Dairy Industry Council chair Terry Richardson said.
Of particular concern are efforts to restrict the use of common cheese names, often referred to as geographic indications of origin (GIs).
“We are deeply concerned that GIs will mean local manufacturers and exporters will no longer be able to use common names like Parmesan or feta because of EU GI regulations,” Mr Richardson said.