Australian and international farm policy news

TPP U-turn

US President Donald Trump’s about-face on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal has been called ‘a jaw-dropping policy reversal’ and is not good news for Australian farmers.

President Trump withdrew the US from the TPP process just three days after taking office on 23 January 2017. Negotiations continued without the US, and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP-11) was signed by Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam on 8 March 2018.

On 13 April, President Trump indicated via Twitter that he was open to ‘join TPP if the deal were substantially better than the deal offered to Pres. Obama’.

National Farmers’ Federation President Fiona Simson said America’s absence from the TPP-11 benefits local agriculture.

‘The US (is) one of our biggest competitors … and under the terms negotiated in the TPP-11 we have favourable access to markets like Japan,’ she said. ‘We would hate to see anything renegotiated.’

EPBC red tape under scrutiny

Dr Wendy Craik is undertaking an independent review to reduce red tape and find practical ways to help farmers meet the requirements of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act).

The review, announced at the end of March, will investigate the interaction between environmental law and the agriculture sector.

The Productivity Commission’s 2017 report into the Regulation of Australian Agriculture found it could be unduly onerous on farmers to deal with the complexity of their obligations requiring compliance with the EPBC Act, and that the red-tape burden costs fell disproportionately on the farmer.

The National Farmers’ Federation said the disparity between the EPBC Act and its state equivalents was a cause for concern, noting that in some cases farmers can be compliant with EPBC but in breach of a state Act or vice versa.

Dr Craik – an AFI Director, Chair of the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation, and a former NFF Director and National Competition Council President – will provide a final report by mid-2018.

Further information is available via http://www.environment.gov.au/Agriculture-Review

Murray Goulburn sale unimpeded

Australia’s largest dairy company, Murray Goulburn (MG), will be sold to its Canadian competitor Saputo at the start of May. MG shareholders voted in favour of the company’s sale for $1.31 billion at an extraordinary general meeting on 5 April.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission initially opposed the deal, concerned by a concentration of the milk market in south-west Victoria. Saputo already owns Australia’s biggest dairy processing plant, the Warrnambool Cheese and Butter factory at Allansford. The MG acquisition would have delivered Saputo the Koroit factory, enabling the Canadian giant to process more than two-thirds of the milk produced in the region. Under the new conditions, Saputo will sell the Koroit plant after the takeover. If not sold by the selected date, a fire sale provision will see Koroit run independently until sold to the highest bidder.

The Foreign Investment Review Board approved the sale on 18 April.

MG Chief Executive Ari Mervis said that for a minimum of five years from July 2018, Saputo has agreed to continue to collect milk from qualifying MG suppliers on terms no less favourable than MG currently provides.

Reviews underway for live export standards

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has announced a ‘short, sharp review’ into live sheep exports to the Middle East during the northern summer, following exposure of animal mistreatment via Animals Australia and 60 Minutes.

On 29 March, Minister Littleproud received an incident report about an August 2017 Australian live sheep export voyage which involved high heat mortalities. The following week he saw footage of 2016 and 2017 voyages which ‘shocked, angered and saddened’ him. The review will consider scientific literature, outcomes of recent voyages and reports from observers regarding stocking density on ships, bedding, animal waste management, ventilation, heat stress risk and skills of the crew in managing animal health and welfare. It will identify any improvements in how the Australian Standards for Export of Livestock (ASEL) can be administered or executed.

Data on monthly live sheep exports reported by Mecardo indicates that the trend has been for a reduction in mortality levels, from 0.9% in 2004 toward 0.7% in 2017.

This review will complement a concurrent review into the investigative capability, powers and culture of the independent regulator, as well as the ASEL review already underway.

The final report is due 11 May. Terms of Reference are available at: www.agriculture.gov.au/livestock-northern-summer-review

Image: Murray Goulburn