ASEAN-Australia Special Summit - remarks to Agri-food CEO Forum roundtable

MELBOURNE
TUESDAY, 5 MARCH 2024

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Good afternoon everyone.

It’s a pleasure to be here and join your discussion on the challenges and opportunities impacting the agri-food sector. 

I look forward to hearing your views and I know your co-chairs - Sunrice CEO Mr Paul Serra and the Vice President of Vietnam’s TTC AgriS, Ms Wendy Doan - have an impressive list of topics to discuss in this roundtable. 

I’d like to start by acknowledging the Traditional Owners, who have cared for these lands and waters, producing food and fibre, for thousands of generations. 

I pay my respects to their elders past and present. 

We are here today because trade between our countries is important to your businesses.

For Australia, Southeast Asia is not just a close neighbour, it’s a booming economic market, an opportunity for trade diversification and an important strategic partner.

For Southeast Asia, Australia is a valued research partner and an important supplier of raw commodities that support food security and the local food and fibre processing sectors, as well as value add sectors such as manufacturing, tourism and hospitality. 

The Australian Government is working hard to create more and more opportunities for two-way trade between Australia and the ASEAN region. 

In fact, total two-way agricultural trade was $23.9 billion last year. South East Asia is Australia’s second largest agricultural export market, only just behind China. Likewise, nearly 20% of Australia’s agricultural imports are from South East Asia.

We continue to prioritise opening doors for agriculture access overseas, with trade now more diversified than ever before.

Australia is serious about increasing our engagement with Southeast Asia. 

This commitment is reflected in our international engagement, trade agreements and efforts to support market access. While wheat, beef, cotton, barley and malt remain our key agricultural exports to the region, we continue to open new markets, such as for avocados, peaches, nectarines, pulses and more.

The program today is structured around Nicholas Moore’s report which outlines elements of Australia’s strategy to increase engagement in Southeast Asia. 

This report is from an Australian point of view, but at last year’s ASEAN-Australia Summit our leaders agreed to a statement on Food Security and Nutrition in Times of Crises

This joint statement recognised the strong agricultural linkages between our countries as well as the importance of maintaining food security in our region.

Food security and trade

It’s impossible to overstate how big an issue food security is across the world right now. 

The global food security situation is increasingly grave.

More than 800 million people go to bed hungry worldwide, while 345 million people face acute food insecurity. 

Our region is home to more than one-third of the world’s moderately or severely food-insecure population.

As CEOs of businesses in the agri-food sector, you know the importance of your role, and the challenges facing the sector.

Driving the worsening trend of food insecurity are climate change and frequent natural disasters, multiple conflicts, disruptions to supply chains following the COVID-19 pandemic, rising costs of business and challenges securing workers. 

Plus, there’s the need to produce more food with the same or fewer resources.

As government, we seek to promote and safeguard transparent, predictable, open and fair markets, that are underpinned by an effective multilateral trading system. 

Free and open trade is vital to achieve food security and support businesses address these challenges. 

Future – innovation and traceability 

Advances in agtech will also be key to dealing with food security and many other challenges, including reducing agricultural emissions and adapting to climate change. 

Australia and Southeast Asia have a strong history of cooperation on agricultural innovation, including through the ASEAN-CGIAR Innovate for Food Regional Program, engagement by universities, and ACIAR all enhancing research for innovation for food security.

When I meet with my international counterparts, I feel proud that they want to draw on Australia’s expertise in plant and animal genetics, husbandry systems, salinity and soil management, water efficiency and more.

Australia is investing in our already robust national agricultural traceability systems to prove to our trading partners that we meet their requirements in areas like biosecurity, food safety and sustainability, to maintain and grow market access for Australian produce and industries.

Of relevance to the ASEAN region, we have launched a specific grant round totalling $4 million that will: 

  • promote and showcase Australia’s agricultural traceability technology, systems and product credentials for exporters in eligible Southeast Asian markets, 
  • facilitate information sharing and business to business partnerships in Southeast Asian markets, and
  • support regional capability business to business through technical demonstration and information sharing. 
  • This is a great example of ongoing business-to-business engagement across Southeast Asia markets. 

We should aim to work together to develop resilient and transparent supply chains that support verifiable claims and fairly represent producers. 

Conclusion

Let me finish by saying I believe the future is bright for Australia and ASEAN’s relationship. 

The opportunities for two-way trade and investment, connection and to learn from each other is endless. 

The sector and ways of doing business are changing continuously and industry and government need to be flexible and resilient. 

Let’s use today to build connections and strengthen the partnership between ASEAN and Australian businesses. 

I look forward to hearing your views and insights today.