There are fears the Australian lime industry could be jeopardised by a Federal Government plan to allow the import of Tahitian limes from five Pacific nations.
The Department of Agriculture’s draft report for the review of biosecurity import requirements for fruit from the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu proposes that imports be permitted.
Far north Queensland Tahitian lime grower Karen Muccignat said such a move would compromise the local lime industry through the threat of pests and an over-supplied market.
Her family business at Mutchilba already operates at a loss for six months of the year, when cold climate varieties grown in the southern states are abundant and prices drop.
Ms Muccignat said during that time, many other Tahitian lime growers did not even bother harvesting.
“They let them drop on the ground. It’s below the coast of production … they wait for the price to go higher up,” she said.
“Limes are our main business so we need to keep going and supply our suppliers and keep everybody happy.
“I just can’t see why we would risk the Australian industry with more limes coming in.”
Concern about pest and disease risk
Ms Muccignat said her main concern was biosecurity.
“It’s not good to have fruit coming in from a tropical country and we’re also tropical, so you’re just not sure of what’s going to be coming into Australia to affect our crops,” she said.
“Just have a look at the white spot in the prawn industry at the moment. That was allowed into the country and it’s buggered that industry and that could happen to us.”
The Department of Agriculture has identified three pests requiring risk management measures, including the cryptic, grey pineapple and Pacific mealybugs.
A spokesman said the proposed risk management measures included an inspection of each consignment by the exporting country, as well as an inspection upon arrival in Australia.
However, those measures were of little comfort to Ms Muccignat.
“Do the exporting countries actually have the knowledge and the skill to be able to do that adequately?” she said.
“Australia apparently is going to check the product when it comes in, but then again is there enough resources to make sure that job gets done properly?”
The spokesman said the proposal was the result of formal requests from the Pacific nations to allow them Australian market access.
He said the volumes imported would be a commercial matter involving exporters and importers.
Written submissions on the draft report will be accepted until August 7.