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Senate Estimates: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee: Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 9 Nov 2016

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Senator RHIANNON: I have questions about Australia's work to open up the kangaroo market around the world. What department funding has been allocated to grow and promote the market overseas?

Mr Hackett: I would like to say that I have expertise such as it is in opening up the market for California but no broader than that.

Senator RHIANNON: I too have questions about California but also for other countries. Maybe your colleague can help.

Mr Brown: If you are asking what kind of programs are available in the portfolio to promote exports of these products, I think it is more appropriately an issue for our colleagues in Austrade. I see Mr Barty, the Executive Director of Austrade, at the end of the table. Do you understand, Senator, that the department essentially deals with the government-to-government focus? We negotiate around the conditions that apply to trade. If your question is around specific Australian government programs to promote exports, in this instance they would fall within Austrade's bailiwick or in the bailiwick of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

Senator RHIANNON: Do you cover anything to do with the kangaroo industry being promoted overseas?

Mr Brown: As Mr Hackett just said, we have been involved where there have been, for example, regulatory barriers or other government-to-government type issues which have acted as restraints on trade in kangaroo products—

Senator RHIANNON: Like California. So I know where I am taking the questions, are there any other jurisdictions apart from California where the department has been directly involved?

Mr Brown: There are a range of countries where there are these kinds of issues. The department of agriculture is generally the home for the parent agency at the Canberra end. Of course all of our embassies are heavily involved where there is some sort of regulatory issue. It has certainly been the case that these have occurred in China, in Russia and in many countries where DFAT officers overseas have been involved.

Senator RHIANNON: I know a bit about the Californian jurisdiction. Are there any other jurisdictions where the department has been involved in a similar way undertaking that work, everything from where the Ambassador gets involved to your own people getting involved directly apart from California?

Mr Brown: We as a department cannot always have complete visibility of every market access issue that might be happening around the world.

Senator RHIANNON: Just tell me about the ones that you know of.

Mr Brown: I am aware that California has been a long running issue where the department, with assistance from other agencies, particularly agriculture, has taken a lot of time. Other issues have tended to be more episodic, where there have been sanitary or phytosanitary issues raised or there have been punitive tariffs or other sorts of regulatory barriers. But California has been the hardy perennial that we have dealt with as a department.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay we will try California. Mr Hackett, as part of your work were there a range of meetings with the industry, with Californian parliamentarians? Was that the sort of work you undertook?

Mr Hackett: It has been undertaken previously. No meetings have been undertaken this year.

Senator RHIANNON: Is that because the issue is off the boil for the moment?

Mr Hackett: The ban is back in place and has been since 1 January but a decision was taken by the industry not to press the issue in the lead up to Californian state elections, which coincide with the federal elections on 8 November.

Senator RHIANNON: It sounds like it may kick back into action next year.

Mr Hackett: Quite possibly, yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Has that request been made to you by industry representatives?

Mr Hackett: The sense we get is that industry representatives are looking at resuming their efforts early in 2017, yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Which legislators or business interests or other stakeholder interests has the department had interactions with in California?

Mr Hackett: Predominantly the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia, as well as colleagues from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you explain how it works? Do you literally arrange a meeting and take them along so they can put their case?

Mr Hackett: Effectively, I think, we have facilitated meetings with members of the Californian legislature, as well as having provided facilities for them to meet and coordinate in our consulate in Los Angeles.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering it was not successful last time, what lessons have you learnt? I understand the intent is to be able to resurrect the trade; what lessons do you think have been learnt in an attempt to change things in California?

Mr Hackett: Certainly, we have learnt patience. The one thing that I think we have learnt is not necessarily relating to the case itself, which remains a solid market access case, in our view. Rather, I think we have learnt that it is necessary to persist and target legislators.

Senator RHIANNON: Which of your lobbyists—maybe that is not the right word. Which of the people within government—like is it the ambassador or the industry directly themselves—or which of the people involved in lobbying for change were most effective in getting the message from the Australian government across to the legislators?

Mr Hackett: I think it is a combination of all parties speaking with a consistent voice.

Senator RHIANNON: Do you do one-to-one lobbying with the legislators? Is that more effective, or do you hold events?

Mr Hackett: Again, I think you cut the sail to fit the cloth. If there are opportunities to advance the market access issue, you take them where they present themselves.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I think my other questions may be to Austrade. How is it going with the Chinese market? Are you having success there? Could you give us an update in terms of opening it up to the kangaroo trade, please?

Mr Barty: The kangaroo industry has sought access to the China market for a number of years, but this has not been granted by the Chinese authorities. In May 2016, in conjunction with the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia, Austrade, the department and AustCham in Beijing organised a kangaroo meat tasting event. This event was attended by key commercial partners and government officials, and included showcasing of kangaroo meat in traditional Chinese-style dishes as designed by a Hong Kong-based celebrity chef. This special event was achieved with a special import permit from the Chinese government. The purpose of the event was to build incountry support in commercial demand for kangaroo in China.

Senator RHIANNON: How much did the event cost?

Mr Barty: On notice.

Senator RHIANNON: You have had that on notice?

Mr Barty: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: And was it successful—like what has changed from within China since you held that event? Are you closer to getting the market opened up?

Mr Barty: Not that I am aware of.

Senator RHIANNON: Has an assessment been made that that may not be the right way to proceed; that you need to follow other tactics?

Mr Barty: I would have to take that on notice.

Ms Adamson: I might add a small amount of information on the basis of extensive work done by the Australian embassy in Beijing during my time as ambassador from 2011 to 2015, where we attached a very high priority to achieving market access for kangaroo. We tried a wide range of approaches, a wide range of representations, to the Chinese government bodies responsible for regulating this matter. Unfortunately we were unable to make progress, and I would say to you, frankly, that there are likely to be very limited opportunities in future to make progress, despite all the good arguments about the protein value of kangaroo meat—lean and green, and all the rest of it. The Chinese are concerned that the kangaroo is one of our national symbols. Over a million Chinese came to Australia last year, and many of them hold our kangaroo in fond regard. Even though the Chinese are renowned for eating many different kinds of food products, kangaroo seems to be a step too far for them. The reality is that government officials are nervous about approving access for kangaroo meat and for a small number of other animals which are regarded as being, I suppose you could say, of the 'cuddly' variety lest there be a backlash from animal liberation supporters. That is a principal reason why we have been unable to make progress and a principal reason, I suspect, why progress is likely to continue to elude us.

Senator RHIANNON: See Chinese people do not like eating Skippy?

Ms Adamson: That is right.

Senator RHIANNON: I will move on to the Russian market. How are things going with reopening—I think we are talking about reopening—the Russian market? Is that where it is that?

Mr Barty: Yes. I will pass that back to my DFAT colleague who knows about protocols and acceptance.

Senator RHIANNON: Who does that one?

Mr Hackett: I think we will take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Really? There is nobody here—?

Mr Hackett: I certainly cannot give you evidence on Russia.

Senator RHIANNON: When we had that earlier discussion, I did not seem to figure that that was department one. I thought that was an Austrade one. Did I misunderstand?

Mr Brown: I think the issue with Russia may a photo-sanitary issue or a tariff issue—in other words, a regulatory barrier. Unfortunately we do not have anyone from our Europe division, which would be responsible for handling that issue, in the room. I am sorry, but we will have to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: I think you were referring there, in talking about the Russian situation, to issues around health. You may need to take this on notice, but I hope you can answer it. Does the government advise importing countries that kangaroo meat is not tested for zoonotic diseases such as toxoplasmosis, Q fever or the host of other zoonotic diseases known to be of high human health risk which are specifically in kangaroo meat? Is that one of the obstacles we are coming up against?

Mr Brown: I can only answer the question in the broad. Each country sets its own import requirements for food products on the basis of their own scientific assessment and other issues. Russia and many other countries are parties to the WTO agreement, so there is a requirement for any import barriers to be consistent with the provisions of those WTO rules. The short answer to your question is—and I am sorry I cannot give you more precision on the Russian situation—that countries do have significant latitude to define what import requirements they impose on products coming in from other countries, such as kangaroo meat.

Senator RHIANNON: Is it correct that Russia stopped the trade because of concerns about—?

Mr Brown: Sorry, I am going to have to take that on notice. I do not want to mislead you, and we can give you a response on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

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