While writing this, I am on a plane returning home from Beijing after two days of discussions on how to get access for mainland apples to China. I am reminded of the Chinese Proverb: A single tree does not make a forest; a single string cannot make music.
In late April to early May the price of domestic apples dropped, a direct consequence of higher production and the associated shortage of bins and cold storage. An effective export program could have avoided this and enabled more consistent domestic pricing during the season, improved overall industry profitability and led to a long-term sustainable export program.
Existing exports are around one per cent of fresh produce. We need to export 10 per cent of fresh production to maintain sensible prices. To achieve this we should export to a range of markets for a more secure export profile, including potential markets such as China.
In my 20 months with APAL I have made four trips to China. The first in November 2013 to observe how the Department of Agriculture and the Office of Horticulture Market Access were pursuing our case for access to China. I then attended the Australia-China Forum with the Prime Minister and the Ministers for Trade and Small Business to progress the Australia China Free Trade Agreement in April 2014. Whilst the complete removal of apple and pear tariffs over five years, due to commence later this year, was achieved, we still don’t have market access.
We then set about creating internal demand for our apples. During my visit in July 2014 we launched a trial of licensed Pink LadyTM on Chinese-grown Cripps Pink apples
for domestic consumption that will improve margins for Chinese growers and grow the Pink Lady family. At the same time, APAL signed an MOU to develop with the Chinese an IPM system tailored to the Chinese conditions. The Tasmanian Government has since signed an MOU with the Shaanxi Province to provide skills training on agronomy and IPM.
On my most recent trip, APAL met with key government agencies to explain Australia’s work to help Chinese growers and our desire to work more strategically with them, and in return, assist us with greater access to China.
All meetings were well attended and there is a real desire to engage with Australian growers and assist with access. We were advised that the risk assessment has commenced for Australian mainland apples and we have agreed to a new MOU to work together for mutual benefit.
Our efforts are paying dividends and we are building good long term relationships with Chinese growers, investors, importers and government agencies. So there is truth in the Chinese Proverb: Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.