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Fruit, vegetable and nut industry reject proposed hikes to export fees

Australian fresh produce exporters say proposed new export fees would “cripple” the growth of Australia’s fruit, vegetable and nut exports.

AUSTRALIA’S fresh produce industry has rejected a revamped Federal Government program overseeing export fees and charges, warning price hikes of more than 40 per cent for some services would render Australian produce globally uncompetitive.
The nation’s notoriously fragmented horticulture industry has made a united call for the Department of Agriculture to scrap its two proposed options for export fees and charges that would see the Department recover almost half of its entire annual budget from Australian farmers and exporters.
The Department of Agriculture has been working on a revised cost-recovery model for export certification services since 2015 after operating at a deficit for a number of years.
The latest iteration released last month proposes two models that would each raise $12.2 million from levies and fees-for-services, with fee hikes of 44-277 per cent.
The amount raised covers a wider cost base than the current model, with an additional $1.53 million included to fund new enforcement activities, scientific and technical advice and an overseas counsellor network.
AusVeg public affairs manager Tyson Cattle described both options as “unmanageable for the vegetable and horticultural industries”.
“We understand the need for export certification requirements, as well as the need to fund the biosecurity framework to protect Australia’s borders … as long as they can be provided efficiently and charged at competitive rates,” Mr Cattle said. “The difficult conditions faced by the horticulture industry currently, including the worst drought in decades, and bushfires affecting production regions and freight of produce to market, make these cost increases especially hard for growers to absorb and remain competitive.”
Australian Horticultural Exporters’ and Importers’ Association’s chief executive Andrea Magiafoglou said cost recovery in agriculture has extended beyond fee for service into cost recovery for policy development.
“Australian horticulture is one of the least subsidised in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and horticultural exporters operate in a high-cost environment influenced by labour challenges, escalating water costs and supply chain pathways overlaid by security requirements,” Ms Magiafoglou said.
An Agriculture Department spokesman said fees and export arrangements needed to increase to cover the cost of delivering regulatory activities.

Source: LEXANDRA LASKIE, The Weekly Times
February 12, 2020