Local rice growers have been snubbed by a free trade agreement between Australia and Japan negotiated by the prime minister on Monday night.
Representatives of the rice industry were at a loss to explain why specialty products including rice flour and microwavable rice produced in Hillston weren’t given access to the lucrative market.
President of the Ricegrowers’s Association of Australia Les Gordon called on the government to explain why they couldn’t arrange market access for the local products given the high demand for them in Japan.
“All of Australia’s rice is produced here in the Riverina and it’s a major part of our economy, so to be denied even the smallest of incremental change is very frustrating,” Mr Gordon said.
“I don’t know why it was excluded, given we had been working with government very closely and we had an expectation we would be given some access for premium products suitable for Japan’s premium markets – it’s all very frustrating.
“To add insult to injury, the government isn’t talking about us missing out, there hasn’t been any acknowledgement we even exist.
“We were just asking for improved access on certain products, because we can compete with the best even if there are tariffs, but tariffs won’t be an issue because we can’t even get in.”
After losing out on both the Japanese free trade agreement and one negotiated with Korea in February, Mr Gordon said the government had to deliver a better result after upcoming negotiations with China.
“Our expectation of negotiations with China is quite strong and we certainly expect the government to perform better than it has been,” he said.
“China is a little different because rice is not politically sensitive in China like it is in Japan and Korea.
“We already have some access to China under the World Trade Organisation, but that access hasn’t been actioned because the protocols haven’t been developed, so we expect the government to get those protocols in place so we can get on with the job.”
Benerembah rice farmer John Bonetti had hoped for a better result but took a long-term optimistic view.
“We just have to keep hoping they’ll change their mind at some stage and remember there’s other markets in the world and things are already looking up for the local rice industry,” Mr Bonetti said.
“After 53 years of farming, I’ve been through all this on more than one occasion and I have learnt to stick to the positives.
“They’re talking about at least $300 per tonne from this crop, but I think it might go well past that.
“Global demand is outstripping supply because of big drought in California and other factors.”