Millions of dollars worth of vegetable imports continued to flow into Australia this year, according to AUSVEG, the National Peak Industry Body representing over 9,000 vegetable and potato growers. New trade data obtained by AUSVEG from the Australian Bureau of Statistics up to 30 June 2010, shows that imports have continued to saturate the Australian vegetable market, with Australia’s balance of trade in vegetables negative at $306 million in the 2009-10 financial year.
AUSVEG Communications Manager Hugh Tobin said that imports were a serious ongoing concern for the vegetable and potato industries with $555 million imported in the past financial year alone.
“There is no doubt that imports from international competitors with lower wages and lower input costs continue to undercut the Australia market, bringing Australian growers to their knees,” Mr Tobin said.
“While Australian growers are subject to a range of different quality and procedural controls to ensure we have the freshest and highest quality products for Australian consumers, there is a cost to bear for this reputation and it’s usually borne by the grower,” he said.
“While horticulture continues to show some positive signs in the context of agricultural production overall, if growers don’t get the support they need at this crucial time then our industry may well be irreparably crippled.”
Mr Tobin said that increasing imports of fresh vegetables were placing pressure on the fresh section of the market, which had previously been a stronghold of Australian growers.
“Fresh vegetable imports have increased alarmingly in the past year from $48.8 million to $57.8 million, indicating that growers are under more pressure than ever across all sectors of the vegetable marketplace,” Mr Tobin said.
“AUSVEG is working to suggest changes to the food labelling laws in Australia so that consumers can more easily distinguish between locally grown products and imports. We would encourage all consumers to buy Australian products where they can.”
Mr Tobin said that there was a marked contrast between the early years of this century when our vegetable trade balance was positive, to now where the balance is in the red.
“Australia is in the midst of a significant moral dilemma when it comes to food production. Do we want our own clean, green Australian product, or are we happy to become a consumption country and forego primary production?”
New Zealand, China, Italy and the United States continued to be the major countries of origin for imports in 2009-10, as has been the case for the last 5 years.