Indonesia looks set to begin exporting mangoes to Australia for the first time, after a trade deal was advanced between the two nations in Melbourne last week.
According to Indonesian media, the first trays of Indonesian mangoes are due to arrive in October, putting them in direct competition with the Australian harvest.
While plenty of growers have told the ABC they are angry about the deal, Australian Mango Industry Association chief executive Robert Gray remains calm.
“I don’t think it’s a major concern for Australian growers, because Australian mangoes have secured a very strong position in the marketplace and the Australian-grown product is the consumers’ mango of choice,” he said.
“Indian mangoes, Pakistani and Vietnamese mangoes have all been given access to Australia in recent years, and experience has shown they have all struggled to capture any foothold in our marketplace, because our industry has been very good at delivering great mangoes to the market.”
Mr Gray said Indonesia had been pushing to get mangoes into Australia for about 25 years, with negotiations beginning in November 2015 to work on a protocol for the fruit.
The federal Department of Agriculture confirmed in a statement that Indonesia was seeking market access for mangoes through the “irradiation treatment pathway”, and an approach had been agreed to during an Australia-Indonesia meeting in Melbourne last week.
“It is expected the systems and procedures for this treatment pathway will be in place in time for the upcoming mango export season expected to commence in September,” the department said.
Government silent on imports
If trade is a two-way street, then the Federal Government seems determined to only talk about one lane.
Following last week’s trade forum in Melbourne, federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud happily announced that seed potato farmers across South Australia and Victoria “will be celebrating after today’s breakthrough in securing new market access to Indonesia”.
According to the Minister, more than 300 seed potato farmers could now export their product to Indonesia — but at what cost to Australia’s mango and dragon fruit industries, which will now face competition from imports?
Mr Littleproud flew to the Northern Territory on Friday and visited a mango plantation near Darwin where, according to local mango growers, he did not mention the Indonesian deal that had been signed the day before.
“He kept saying he was there to help us and didn’t mention anything that would destroy us,” one mango grower told the ABC Country Hour.
“We’ve been sold out or traded for another commodity … I would say David Littleproud hasn’t got much to be proud of at all,” NT mango farmer Leo Skliros said.
Mr Skliros believes imports from Indonesia will hurt local growers.
“The top of the market is determined by the bottom, so an inferior product coming in might not be in direct competition [with our fruit] in the supermarkets, but for a lot of businesses they do buy that lower grade fruit and it’ll drag the price down,” he said.
In a statement to the ABC, Mr Littleproud said mango imports to Australia were not new, and he defended his Government’s view on trade.
“Australian farmers rely on exporting their produce overseas, and our exports rely on Australia also receiving imports from overseas in return,” he said.
“If Australia locks the door to imports, other countries retaliate by blocking our exports, and the entire Australian agriculture industry falls over.”
The Australian Government is conducting a review of biosecurity import requirements for fresh dragon fruit from Indonesia.
Dragon fruit growers facing more imports
The Department of Agriculture said it was also conducting a review of biosecurity requirements to allow for the importation of fresh dragon fruit from Indonesia.
A draft report has been published for stakeholder consultation, and submissions close on March 19.
“It is anticipated that a final report will be published towards the middle of 2018,” the department said.
“Export can only begin once Australia is satisfied that Indonesia can meet the biosecurity requirements.”
Australia’s dragon fruit industry is already experiencing dwindling returns, after the Federal Government last year allowed Vietnam to start exporting the exotic fruit to Australia.
Northern Territory grower Marcus Karlsson said he was having one of his worst seasons because the Vietnam fruit had dragged the price down.
Speaking to the ABC last week, Mr Karlsson said he was losing about $20 per tray and was seriously considering his future in the industry.
When asked about the prospects of imports coming in from Indonesia, he said it would be “another nail in the coffin”.
“It’s just another example of our Federal Government doing its best to ruin a Territory industry,” he said.
“And basically, we’ve got the Minister [David Littleproud] telling us to go suck eggs. It makes you wild.”