Highlands News

Free trade talks could go sour for dairy industry

cheese_2.jpg

Discussions about a free trade agreement between Australia and the European Union have the potential to severely impact Australia's dairy industry, according to Michael Cains of Robertson.

The Pecora Dairy owner said free trade was not always fair trade, as European dairy products were the most heavily subsidised in the world, while the Australian dairy industry was the least.

Those subsidies could allow cheap imported dairy goods to flood the Australian market at prices below production costs.

"When we boil that down, it's very clear that it's not a fair fight," Mr Cains said.

"European farmers are given lots of support, lots of subsidies, they're able to still dump cheese on the Australian market at below cost and make a buck."

cheese_1.jpg

That results in things like Danish fetta being occasionally sold for $5.99 a kilogram in the supermarket, of the artesan sheep milk cheese Spanish Manchego being sold a $25 a kilogram - prices which unsubsidised Australian farmers can not match.

"I thin we need to be mindful of that before we go rushing into a free trade agreement with the EU," Mr Cains said.

He argued tariffs were the opposite to subsidies.

The EU  also wants to impose restrictions on designated origin product names, such as camembert or brie.

Mr Cains said some of the requests could be accommodated but, "We do, in that instance, think that some of their requests go a little bit too far, for instance fetta is not a particular place name, it's the Greek word for slice - the name of a generic village cheese."

"I think that those things need to be scrutinised a little bit more."

Images: Pecora Dairy

Tags: dairy farmers, Robertson, dairy processing, cheese, free trade agreement