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AHEIA : Fruit imports hindered by pre-clearance withdrawal

From the new Taste Australia brand to negotiations aimed at improving market access protocols overseas, the Australian horticultural sector and government are working hard to lift the country’s fruit and vegetable shipments abroad. But a key industry trade body is concerned about what a transition away from the offshore pre-clearance programme could mean for imports, and by the very nature of bilateral trade, exports too.

“I certainly see it presenting difficulties to our trade relationships,” says Australian Horticultural Exporters’ and Importers’ Association (AHEIA) CEO Dominic Jenkin.

Jenkin tells Fresh Fruit Portal the effects are already being seen from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ (DoAWR) plans to withdraw from the industry-funded import arrangement.

He says a removal of the practice complicated imports of Chinese Ya pears last season, but soon the impacts will be seen for imports from New Zealand and the United States; two programs that account for around 75,000 metric tons (MT) or AUD$300 million worth of import trade.

The DoAWR is looking to withdraw completely from pre-clearance programs by 2019-20.

“What’s happened with the removal of that [for China] is that things that were potentially discovered upon detection and refused entry on pre-clearance are now being discovered in Australia,” Jenkin says.

“The complication is that if pests are discovered in Australia you’ve now got to wait for pest identification, and depending on the result, it may lead to reconditioning or treatment, re-export or the destruction of the consignment.”

He says that whilst treatments are not great for the product, they are fairly easily applied. But disease identification should pathogens be present can take a long time.

“We had occasions last year of product being held for 40 days awaiting pest identification,” he says.

“Last year there was a significant amount of product that was impacted.

To try and reduce the disruption to trade from the removal of offshore pre-clearance inspections for Chinese pears exported to Australia, AHEIA partnered with major exporters and importers to work on capacity building to ensure the fruit continued to meet Australia’s phytosanitary conditions.

“We undertook this project using grant funds supplied by DoAWR under their Agricultural Trade and Market Access Cooperation program. We undertook this work with an understanding of the shared responsibility and a desire to ensure the further development and prosperity of trade with China,” Jenkin says.

“It is under this project that earlier in the year AHEIA went to Vietnam to ready the import value chains for the upcoming market access for dragon fruit.”

Jenkin believes a real test for the new system will be how imports of New Zealand avocados fare this year.

“New Zealand avocados is a good example there – this is the first year that they’re going through the process of removing some pre-clearance capacity, so we will be seeing arrivals non-precleared out of New Zealand over the coming months,” he says.

Anecdotally, he says the association has seen an increase in the frequency of on-shore fumigation of product.

“There is a growing understanding by the department (DoAWR) that they understand that trade is both ways – it’s just a real challenge with this particular issue.

“They’re wanting to follow global trends towards managed pathways or systems-type approaches to managing risk, which are less resource intensive in terms of staffing, but seemingly that offer the same results.

“Part of the challenge for us is if you’ve got something there that’s delivering results for all sides, why should there be such a strong drive to move in another direction?”

He adds not only does pre-clearance programs help keep biosecurity risks offshore, which is a better defense for pest and disease mitigation, but they also put less strain on import processing capacity at home.

“I think there are going to be more and more problems that we’re going to be hearing about, just because the demand for services in Australia is going to increase significantly,” he says.

“The volume of product that came in through pre-clearance was vast, and now in the absence without the implementation of any managed pathways because they’re still being confirmed, it’s going to lead to a very big increase in demand in services both for quarantine premises and for the inspectors themselves.

“So industry’s taken up the challenge there – there’s big investments in all the major ports of arrival in improved premises, so more space for imports, more fumigation chambers, more inspection rooms, to be able to cope with this increase.

“But there remains a question mark as to whether the department is as readily prepared.”

Transition details

Jenkin says the DoAWR has plans to further reduce the availability of inspectors by 2017-18, which will no doubt impact on New Zealand and the USA which account for 80% of Australia’s fruit imports.

“The majority of imported fruit from these countries has in past years utilized preclearance to varying degrees,” he said.

The move is toward a compliance-based inspection scheme, with three new schemes announced this year following a pilot for lemons and limes from the USA.

“Whilst Stonefruit and Cherries from USA scheme follow lemons and limes requiring 5 successful inspections to qualify for a reduced rate of 1 in 4 inspections, avocados from NZ require 10 successful inspections for a reduced rate of 1 in 2. This is unlikely to be workable for the importers of NZ avocados,” he says.

Source: www.freshfruitportal.com

Name change for Australia’s peak horticultural export-import body

The Australian Horticultural Exporter’s Association (AHEA) has changed its name to reflect the true nature of the organization, following a vote at its annual general meeting (AGM) in Melbourne on August 24.

In a release, the group said it had changed its name to Australian Horticultural Exporters’ and Importers’ Association (AHEIA) to better reflect its bilateral focus, with a rebranding to be rolled out over the coming weeks.

The AHEIA represents 65% of exporters and 75% of importers by value.

During the AGM, members also voted in the existing board of directors, along with two new executive committee directors; Prudence Barker of BGP International Pty Ltd in Melbourne, and David Hooper of Harvest Moon in Tasmania.

AHEIA chairman Joseph Saina welcomed the new directors and thanked the board, CEO Dominic Jenkin and members for their contribution and ongoing commitment to Australia’s AUD$11.3 billion agricultural trade.

Key speakers at the industry forum reflected AHEIA’s bilateral focus and included speakers from the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DoAWR), Austrade, Hort Innovation (HIAL) and Freshcare.

DoAWR was represented by Lois Ransom (Assistant Secretary, Plant Import Operations) and David Ironside (newly appointed Assistant Secretary, Plant Export Operations). Both speakers addressed issues of market access, and two-way trade.

DoAWR established the Imported Fresh Produce Working Group (IFPWG) in May 2017, which includes representatives of various industry stakeholders.

Matters addressed included implications for the regulation of fresh produce arising from the new Biosecurity Act 2015, the department’s transition from Offshore Preshipment Inspection, modernisation of the way imported fresh produce is regulated, as well as irradiation as a phytosanitary measure for regulated pests of fresh produce.

Ransom also spoke of management of biosecurity risk, and focussing the most attention on issues that involve the most risk, as well as using historic data to reward compliant pathways through reduced inspections using the Compliance-Based Inspection Scheme (CBIS), an evidence-led, risk-based approach.

David Ironside spoke of the market access and prioritization process, the mechanisms for industry engagement and the importance of effectively engaging all relevant parties. He demonstrated willingness to engage with members of the audience to address operational issues that were raised during the course of the day.

Austrade Senior Trade Advisor Jenny Van de Meeberg provided a glimpse of the future of shopping for fresh produce, albeit with a warning note that Australian exporters must retain a focus on innovative value-adding to maintain their competitive advantage.

She spoke of personalization, which retailers use to emotionally connect customers to a product. A new example of this is the “Taste Australia” branding which HIAL have developed and has been launched at Asia Fruit Logistica in Hong Kong this week.

Freshcare general manager for industry development, Clare Hamilton-Bate, spoke of the expanded range of responsibilities that Freshcare now has, and provided important new information on the accreditation required for exports and the interest in such accreditation by our major trading partners.

Freshcare has developed a new, interactive, on-line platform, allowing training and accreditation to be done online.

Importantly for exporters, Freshcare certification has now been benchmarked against the international GlobalG.A.P standard, and to gain this accreditation suppliers now only have to upgrade their current Freshcare certification.

Hort Innovation was represented by its general manager for trade, Michael Rogers, who mentioned that horticulture accounts for about 15% of GVP in agriculture.

Hort Innovation invests approximately AUD$120 million (US$96 million) each year in R&D and marketing and manages about 650 active R&D and Marketing projects.

The body has also committed funding to the “Frontier Funds”, facilitating collaborative cross-industry projects with a long-term focus, focussing on challenges in areas identified as important to securing the future of Australian horticulture, and dependent on feasibility of outcome and clear pathways to adoption of new markets.

Wayne Prowse of Fresh Intelligence Consulting provided up-to-date statistics on the growth of horticultural trade in 2016-17. Australian fresh produce two-way trade increased 7% to AUD$1.7 billion (US$1.36 billion), of which exports alone were AUD$1.2 billion (US$960 million).

China is the leading market by volume and value worth AUD$245 million (US$196 million). It was noted that Chinese imports of fresh produce have increased exponentially and that the majority of Asian imports are imported from regions that are geographically close (predominantly Asia). Singapore, UAE and Japan are the three largest importers of Australian vegetables.

Ben Reilly from Steritech detailed the investments the company was making in Sydney and Melbourne to increase access to phytosanitary irradiation, as well as efforts in engaging with government and industry to support its use in satisfying import and export protocols.

The afternoon was concluded by Dominic Jenkin who emphasized the importance of transparency and communication across industry and government as as the sector seeks a more coordinated approach to market access and expansion, increased value and efficiency of trade.

www.freshfruitportal.com