Asian companies will soon cotton on to the idea that they can export organic goods into China just as smoothly as Australian companies, which have traditionally enjoyed a strong link through its leading certification body.
According to Ben Copeman, general manager of the National Association For Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (Nasaa), until very recently, his group was the only body outside China allowed to inspect based on Chinese certification.
This, he says, has led to Nasaa receiving a growing number of inquiries from other Asian certification bodies.
“I’m expecting this to grow over the next few years as Asians begin to realise they can export to China every bit as cleanly as Australian companies can. This will be quite significant.
“It has given us a real benefit as far as Asian-based certification bodies want to link with Nasaa in order to get our expertise.”
A number of Australian organic producers have moved into China, the world’s second-biggest economy, to varying degrees of success. The companies—mostly dairy producers and wine exporters—have reported difficulties with distribution, namely in getting goods from the docks to the shelves, says Copeman.
“Getting the product from Australia to China is the easy part; it’s the distribution of the product once you get it to China that is the hard part.
“In China, there’s nothing like Coles, Woolworths or Aldi, which are all seriously big in Australia. And everyone who touches your product in China wants to be paid, so that adds to the cost and the risk. For everything that’s going to make some money along the line, there’s likely to be someone there who’s going to be a bit shonky.”
But, Copeman says, this shouldn’t put off producers from entering the Chinese market, where there is great potential especially for organic products in the wake of a regular succession of industry scares and scandals.
Indeed, China’s well-documented food safety issues provide great opportunities for Australian organic exporters within a market that is very sensitive to consumer issues.
“Whenever we see a chemical scare somewhere in the world, our members report that demand for organic products goes up. We’ve seen a massive increase in inquiries since the Steve Marsh GM contamination issue was raised in the courts in March. There’s a lot of things that are driving growth.”
Demand on the rise
Figures suggest that the Chinese organic market is growing at anything between 20% and 30% per year. This is echoed by Copeman.
“We saw a report coming out of America the other day that showed that demand for organic food was growing at three times the rate of that for conventional food, and in Australia we’re seeing that coming through from the Chinese market now.
“There’s a lot of growth appearing in the market, and there are huge opportunities for Australian companies. But it’s still only early days, and as long as there’s a debate over genetically modified foods and organisms, people will be attracted to certified organic food.”