Australia has appointed its first agricultural adviser to its competition regulator in a bid to protect farmers who have long complained that profits are squeezed by the country’s dominant supermarkets and processors.
Supporting farmers is seen as critical to Australia’s goal to be the “delicatessen of Asia” by capitalising on strong Asian demand for high-end produce that has seen the value of the country’s agricultural exports rise to about A$45bn (€29bn) last year.
“The government is committed to fostering a vibrant and competitive agriculture industry to ensure that Australian agribusinesses are well-placed to seize opportunities both at home and in emerging global markets,” said Australian treasurer Scott Morrison.
Rod Sims, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman, said that oversight of the country’s agriculture sector was “a new priority” for the regulator in 2016.
Mick Keogh, a cattle farmer and ex-industry body executive, was appointed to a five-year term as an ACCC commissioner, and will likely take on Australia’s sugar industry — the world’s third largest raw sugar exporter — as an early priority.
Relations between growers and sugar millers have soured in recent months after several large producers announced plans to stop selling their sugar through an industry-owned marketing body, raising fears among farmers of lower prices.
Mick Keogh will also be tasked with ensuring that the country’s dominant supermarkets do not abuse their power.
Supermarket chain Coles, owned by Wesfarmers Ltd, Australia’s biggest retail group, was fined A$10m (€6.5m) in 2014 after it was found to have used undue pressure to extract A$16m (€10.5m) in rebate payments from more than 200 farmers in relation to apparent supply chain improvements.
“I’m hoping that... we show to the Australian people that we are doing everything in our power to open the markets, to turn around the prices, as well as to make sure that we get the research and development right,” Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce stated to reporters.
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