Opinion | The Gauge
Debate rages about the nature of the suspension of four Australian abattoirs by China: is it purely technical or a retaliatory political move?
As our beef industry races to reassure that it's just "labeling issues, nothing to see here" we potentially miss the point that made us vulnerable.
Our Australian standards are among the highest in the world, why do we accept barriers to trade which have absolutely no scientific basis in food safety?
Our free trade agreement with China commits to reduce technical barriers to trade.
It also commits to abide by the WTO's Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS Agreement).
The agreement warrants that SPS measures are not applied in a manner that would constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between WTO members or a disguised restriction on international trade.
The reality is we continue to accept discrimination.
The suspension of just four plants would not be as impactful if China had not reneged on a March 2017 commitment to accredit an additional 41 Australian chilled plants.
Meanwhile, they allowed the USDA to accredit their own plants based on US standards.
We may not have had "labeling issues" with beef tendons if our tendons were not discriminated against in favour of those from Russia, the USA, India or the other 463 listed on Alibaba.
The FTA and SPS Agreements both include commitments to harmonise requirements towards international standards yet it is only China with which we endure "labeling issues".
To take the cake Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and New Zealand have all fronted up at Chinese customs with rotten meat yet continue to trade.
This is not just a China issue.
Both our industry and our government have simply not been tough enough on market access.
We tout a set of expensive industry wide integrity systems, NLIS, LPA, AEMIS, we produce to the highest standard in the world, our negotiators need to be proud of our producers and prosecute our Australian standards on a global stage.
In my opinion much of this reticence to act comes from an unjustified inferiority complex that is embedded within our bureaucracy and our farming organisations.
In discussions on the EU Free Trade Agreement negotiation, (that I have continually pushed as a vital diversification of our markets), so many within the bureaucracy and industry have said, we can't do it, we have no negotiating power, we must just simply accept that European farmers are sensitive but Australian farmers are not.
They fail to recognise that we are Europe's sixth largest pork market, seventh largest cheese market, their sixth largest car market and we are the world's fourteenth largest economy and in the top 10 per cent globally.
Trading with those countries, having customers in those countries, does not mean that we should grovel on our knees.
It should not prohibit our nation from having a sense of national pride and for standing up for our Australian values, for Australian farmers.
Our negotiators must not only champion us as the leaders of free trade, they must believe in our product, believe in our systems and fiercely defend our interests on a global stage.
- Josie Angus is a beef producer from central Queensland.