ABC News | 10 January 2018
Agriculture Minister heads to India to resolve pulse tariff dispute, but warns ’megaphone diplomacy’ won’t work
by By Brett Worthington & Catherine McAloon
Late last month, India slapped a 30 per cent tariff on the imported pulses, sparking concerns Australian farmers would see their incomes slashed.
India has been a booming market for Australian pulse crops in recent years, with the value of exports of chickpeas reaching $1.14 billion, and lentils $196 million, in the past financial year.
The imposition of tariffs on lentils and chickpeas in December followed India’s earlier moves to impose a 50 per cent tariff on field peas and a 20 per cent tariff on wheat.
Mr Littleproud said the Federal Government had been working hard behind the scenes to negotiate a better deal for Australian farmers.
"Now it’s to the point that I intend to make a trip to India in the coming 10 days to go and engage with my counterparts over there, as well as industry to ask about making sure that we get a far better approach to this in the long term in terms of the tariff impositions, but also in terms of making sure that we reinforce the need for a long-term sustainable free-trade agreement with India," Mr Littleproud said.
"It will show the seriousness of this to our producers here in Australia.
"This is a billion-dollar industry to Australian producers and it’s important that we show that this is something that has affected them," he said.
Seeking alternate markets for Australian pulses
An estimated 200,000 tonnes of Australian lentils and chickpeas were headed to India at the time the tariff was announced and Mr Littleproud said the government would seek alternative markets for those shipments.
"We’re also trying to make representation around where the cargo is in transit now, about asking and negotiating some dispensation around where that tariff may be imposed, but we’re also working tirelessly to open up other market access as we speak, into Nepal, Iran and the United Arab Emirates."
The grains industry has been critical of the government’s approach to dealing with India, but Mr Littleproud said the government was taking a strategic approach to long-term trade with the country.
"Megaphone diplomacy doesn’t always work and we have to be sensible about this. We have to play a long game about what will get us the long-term benefit that our producers want."
Government playing long game in India trade
A Free Trade Agreement with India is a high priority for Australia’s agriculture sector and Mr Littleproud said the government was acting in a sensible and responsible way to ensure the issue did not become "an impediment in the long term of progress of an FTA with India".
He said India had acted well within World Trade Organisation guidelines.
"They have their own sovereign right to do this, that’s why it’s important that we continue to work collaboratively with them in a calm and methodical way," he said.
"What we have to understand is we have a $2.7 billion trade surplus in the agriculture sector with India, so we have to be sensible about how we negotiate with India and we are doing that in a sensible way behind doors."
Federal Trade Minister Steve Ciobo will also meet with his Indian counterpart, Suresh Prabhu, to discuss the issue during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, later this month.