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FTA a bitter pill for sugar industry

Geoff Helisma While many industries in Australia will benefit from the country’s free trade agreement (FTA) with China, the sugar industry has once again missed out. Along with other agricultural industries, such as the production of rice, wool, cotton, wheat, maize and canola, there will be no tariff reductions for sugar – China imposes a 15 per cent tariff on imports within its 1.94million tonne import quota and as much as $50 above the quota. New South Wales Sugar CEO Chris Connors said there has “been a lot of noise made about the FTA’s benefits for Australia, but when it comes down to agriculture, particularly sugar, there’s no benefit at all. “At the end of the day sugar has been excluded again, as it has been with every FTA Australia has entered into over [recent] years.” The sugar industry was also left out of a US trade agreement in 2004, which resulted in the government of the day, led by then prime minister John Howard, compensating the industry with $444 million. Negotiations for the China FTA began in 2005. Mr Connors said China was looking after its sugar industry, which employs many millions of people. “They [the Chinese] see that it is important to protect the regional areas of their country; Australia’s got exactly the opposite view,” he said. When asked what his industry was doing to have it included in FTAs, Mr Connors said: “You can make all the noise you like, but at the end of the day, it really comes back to government. “We’re trying to diversify our product bases, so that we do something that is a bit different out there. “Rather than just being mainstream, we try to represent ourselves as a high quality producer, that’s why we’re … Bonsucro certified. Bonsucro is a collaboration of sugar retailers, end-users (companies who purchase sugar and derived products) investors, traders, producers and NGOs that are committed to sustainable sugar production, by establishing principles and criteria that are applied in the sugar cane growing regions of the world. “Price will always be the issue, and when you’ve got protection at the other end it starts to restrict your market; it’s pretty frustrating,” Mr Connors said. LOCAL HARVEST STARTS After a decade of bad weather, including floods, consistent rain events and frosts, the estimated Northern Rivers sugarcane harvest is looking “positive” Mr Connors said. “Initial estimates come in at about 2.1million tonnes of cane. “The first week of crushing at Harwood and Broadwater has been very positive and cane cutting is above estimates, so it’s going to be a strong season. “From a production point of view, it’s the best we’ve had for close on 10 years now. “After all of the horrific weather events we’ve had here, it’s pleasing to get a good crop.” Mr Connors said the continuing showery weather was not yet adversely hampering this year’s harvest, although, he said some areas were wetter than others.