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Australia can become a ‘food bowl’ to Asia but reform needed: lobbyists

By Kacey Culliney , 20-Mar-2012

Can Australia feed Asia?
Can Australia feed Asia?

Australia can become the food-supply powerhouse to Asia, but increased investments and reform across agriculture, water infrastructure and the country’s food and grocery sector are essential.

Dr Craig Emerson, Australia’s minister for trade, last week commenced a new push towards the old adage that Australia can become a ‘food bowl’ to Asia.

Emerson said that there are “lucrative opportunities” to feed the burgeoning populations of Asian countries, such as China and India, but he told local media that it would require a lot of financing.

Australian funding alone is not sufficient and it needs to be supplemented by foreign capital, he told local radio station ABC.

It is the country’s water infrastructure in particular that needs this added investment, he noted.

Australia is drought-prone, he said, and this can have an adverse effect on the country’s capacity to be reliable suppliers of food to Asia. “So we need to do more with our water infrastructure, on farm water conservation, and also our transport and logistics in getting our products from farms to markets. That requires foreign investment.”

Food and grocery sector: the jewel on the Food Bowl crown?

Australia’s A$108bn food and grocery sector will be heavily influential in the drive to become Asia’s food bowl, said Kate Carnell, CEO of the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC).

Food and beverages, grocery and fresh produce exports account for 26.1% of all manufacturing sector exports, indicates AFGC data.

Bold reform would be needed to allow the food and grocery industry to compete globally in the export market, Carnell said.

Accelerated depreciation tax measures need to be implemented, she urged, “to enable business to take advantage of the high Australian dollar to invest in large-scale plant equipment upgrades to improve productivity and reduce energy use.”

The Brand Australia programme would also require review, she noted, to ensure Australia’s safe, clean, green and nutritious food and grocery products are represented effectively.

High-protein opportunities

Surging populations across Asia are causing a swell in demand for high-protein foods, said Emerson, and he estimates that this can be met by Australia’s beef, lamb and dairy sectors.

A Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestries (DAFF) conference paper,Food Demand to 2050, detailed that Australia is well placed geographically and in terms of its agricultural strengths to meet Asian market requirements.

It projected large increases in the value of Australian agri-food exports in 2050, estimating the value will be 140% higher than in 2007.

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