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Rice growers slam Japan FTA

Sydney Morning Herald, Australia

Rice growers slam Japan FTA

8 April 2014

By Tim Binsted

Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia President Les Gordon has slammed Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s landmark free trade agreement with Japan as a deal that punishes and ignores ricegrowers.

Mr Gordon said the RGA is "extremely disappointed" that the government concluded a deal that excludes rice.

"Even more disappointing is that the Australian government seems unable or unwilling to even acknowledge rice in any statements about the agreement," he said in a statement.

"Australian rice growers are recognised as the most efficient in the world. This announcement punishes Australian growers by preventing expansion into this important market."

There are around 1,500 farm businesses growing rice in the Murrumbidgee Valley of NSW and the Murray Valley of NSW and Victoria.

Australian rice growers have the capacity to produce more than 1 million tonnes of rice per annum which is milled, packed and branded by SunRice in the Riverina.

SunRice is the sole exporter from New South Wales and ships up to 80 per cent of Australia’s rice to 60 countries in a non-drought season.

The industry generates around $800 million in revenue a year.

Mr Gordon said the government has ignored rice in its talks with Japan and South Korea, and he called on the Coalition to ensure access to China in its upcoming free trade negotiations with the world’s second-biggest economy.

"Given that rice has been excluded in the Korea FTA and the Japan Trade Agreement our industry is calling on the Australian Government to ensure that we have access to China. The same cultural sensitivities do not apply in China and they already import more than 6 million tonnes of rice annually," Mr Gordon said.

"Australian rice technically already has access to the Chinese market under World Trade Organisation rules but we have been waiting for protocols to be finalised for more than 6 years to actually gain access. This should now be completed as a matter of urgency."