The president of the Cattle Council of Australia says he detects a thaw in Japan’s attitude to a free trade agreement with Australia.
An industry delegation is currently in Japan to talk free trade, ahead of a visit from Prime Minister Tony Abbott in a fortnight.
Cattle Council president Andrew Ogilvie says he senses there is now a ‘mood to conclude’ a free trade deal within Japan.
The two nations began negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) in April 2007, but the opposition of Japan’s powerful farm lobby to such a deal has made progress difficult.
As the Prime Minister prepares for upcoming trade talks in Japan, Liberal backbenchers have expressed their concern that Japan may not be prepared to ‘come to the party’ on reducing the tariffs that matter most to Australia.
Japan is Australia’s largest export market for beef and dairy products, although those products are subject to large tariffs.
Victorian Liberal MP Dan Tehan says he believes that Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Trade Minister Andrew Robb understand the significance of tariff reductions for those industries.
But he and fellow MPs Sharman Stone from Victoria, and Nola Marino from Western Australia, have told their colleagues that Australia must ensure that any free trade deal recognises the importance of tariff reduction for beef and dairy.
“There are a range of tariffs, both within the beef and dairy sectors, some of which are well over 30 per cent,” Mr Tehan said.
“What we want to see is a commercial outcome for our farmers, so that in the areas where we do trade, we want to see some real progress in the reduction of tariffs.
“[We want something] that actually leads to extra dollars in our farmers’ pockets.”
The Federal Government came to power promising to lock in free trade agreements with Australia’s major Asian trading partners within 12 months.
The Prime Minister will visit some of Australia’s major trading partners in a fortnight, telling an Asia Society function in Canberra on Tuesday that during that trip he hopes ‘to help finalise the Japan-Australia FTA’. He says he also hopes to witness the signing of the Korea-Australia FTA, and ‘announce substantial progress towards freer trade’ with China while in that country.
A delegation from the Cattle Council of Australia is already in Japan, talking about free trade and Australia’s desire to secure tariff reductions for beef, in particular.
From Tokyo, council president Andrew Ogilvie says he detects that Japan is ‘in the mood to conclude’ its deal with Australia, but that doesn’t mean it’s in the bag just yet.
“Japanese farmers [remain] concerned that any lowering of tariffs would affect their viability in the market, and they’d be under pressure from the Australian product,” he said.
“We’re here to assure them that that’s not the case, and that we’re interested in growing the pie rather than taking a piece of theirs.”
Mr Ogilvie says that message has been received ‘with understanding’ in Japan this week, while serious sensitivities remain around agriculture and free trade.
But he also senses a change in attitude.
“There certainly is [a more favourable view now than in the past],” Mr Ogilvie said.
“We get that sense, talking to people in Japan, that [they think] it’s time to do some trade agreements, and a free trade agreement with Australia is seen as a very important step down the trade liberalisation road.”