Australian horticulture exports: Growers’ grape leap forward

AUSTRALIAN horticulture producers are scaling up their plantings to capitalise on the elimination of tariffs for produce exported to China next year.

China applies some of its highest tariffs on horticultural products of up to 30 per cent on most fruit, 13 per cent on vegetables and 25 per cent on nuts.

Come January 1 next year, as part of the China-Australia free trade agreement, almost all tariffs on Australian fruit, vegetables and nuts will be eliminated. The only exception is citrus fruits, where tariffs of between 11 and 30 per cent will be whittled down to zero by 2023.

Jeff Scott, chief executive of the Australian Table Grape Association, said the tariff applied to Australian table grapes was now 5 per cent, and its elimination would make a huge difference to the industry.

“The table grape industry has been ramping up volumes for exports over the last five years and China is our biggest market, taking 45 per cent of our volume, and I can see that growing,” Mr Scott said.

“The free trade agreement is an incentive for growers to increase their plantings and production.”

NSW table grape grower Charlie Costa said he had trebled production on his Euston property, just north of the Murray River near Robinvale, from 121ha to 485ha over the past seven years to meet export demand, particularly from China.

“At the moment we do about 100 containers (400 tonnes) to China. We started about five years ago with about 80 tonnes and it’s been increasing every season,” Mr Costa said.

“We never expected it to grow this quickly, but the response has been so good.”

His business, Grapehouse, sells mostly Australian crimson seedless to China as well as some thompson seedless. He also grows red globes to export to New Zealand and Indonesia.

Michael Coote, AusVeg’s national manager for export development, said the elimination of tariffs under the China Australia FTA by January 1 spelled good news for growers.

“However, when looking specifically at the vegetable industry, there is limited trade of Australian asparagus and lettuce into China to date, and a lack of market access for the majority of Australia’s other exported vegetable commodities.”

He said AusVeg has submitted a market access application for carrots, which has been approved by Hort Innovation and now sat with the Department of Agriculture.

Mr Coote said most Australian vegetable exports were sent to open, non-protocol markets such as Singapore and Dubai.

A Department of Agriculture and Water Resources spokesman said the Federal Government’s priorities — announced last October — for horticultural market access were apples from mainland Australia and blueberries.

At the moment only Tasmanian apples can be exported to China.