When you think
about all the problems that have emerged from the Cole Commission,
you’d think the federal government would think twice before giving
another Australian company the same kind of power enjoyed by AWB to
control exports of a single commodity.

Not quite. The
government is finalising its shiny new single desk policy for exporting
oranges to China, after the Chinese announced last October that they’d
allow Australian citrus products into their country for the first time.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has
chosen Horticulture Australia (HAL), a produce marketing company owned
by a few select industry representatives, as the sole Australian
exporter for Australian oranges.

This means that, starting in
June, the Chinese market will be open to any Australian exporter who
wants to sell citrus fruits to the growing superpower, which is why the
government is rumoured to be pulling out all the stops to get the final
details of the single desk organised before the market opens.

Submissions from exporters (see here)
about how the process should work have been put to HAL, who will assess
them and then put their chosen model to the Department of Agriculture,
who will assess it before it’s finally ticked off by the minister.

“It’s
preposterous that you would appoint a single company (to sell to
China)”, Australian Horticulture Exporters’ Association CEO Maxwell
Summers told Crikey, saying it paves the way for corruption in a market
of 1.3 billion people (of which maybe half are able to afford fresh
fruit), where demand will obviously outstrip supply.

In
industry circles, a lot of exporters are reported to be seriously upset
about the decision to grant a single export monopoly to HAL, which they
say will prevent up to 80 exporters competing to sell their fruit to
China, and will hand a strategic import monopoly to an as yet un-named
Chinese company.

Peter Fray

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