Free Trade and Food… not a good thing

Free Trade and Food… its not good news!!

Let me start out by confessing that I voted for the bastards… no not the Tony Abbott bastards, the other lot and let me also say that I am becoming very disillusioned.

Are you aware that New Zealand has a Free Trade Agreement with China?

And that Australia and New Zealand have a FTA ?

That Australia does not have a FTA with China, but that negotiations do continue.

Are you joining the dots? Have you ever wondered why so many Australian big businesses have suddenly discovered that they must have a base in New Zealand and have you also wondered how so much product is coming in from China. We are being inundated. As well as that our country is being bought up by China from both the government (the Army) and big business in China as well as many very wealthy private citizens.

And we were worried about the Murdoch influences over world affairs, it pales into nothing compared with the influence that China now wields.

Each and every one of us uses fruit and vegetables which come from China almost daily. Its not just the garlic, it’s potato, apple, onion, tomato, oranges and the list goes on and on. You want to know more, I suggest that you ask to see the country of origin when next buying food stuffs from almost any place… the big players included.

We spent the morning looking through our list of ingredients checking to see where they came from. Now I regard myself as pretty damn vigilant about quality and growth habits, I even like to know country of origin and where possible opt always for Australian made. Don’t get me wrong, this is not nationalist fervour, this is simply that we have great (mostly) growing conditions, our farmers in the main produce products of some excellence and I am loyal enough and perhaps even naive enough to think that if we do not encourage our producers and growers, then we will loose some fantastic product because they cannot hope to compete with the massive international corporations. Pork is a good example.

The result of the mornings work… extreme disappointment, we discovered that much of the fruit, including the fruit used in cordials and syrups, is grown overseas, a lot in China and that even some of what we use is the same. None of that makes me happy.

There are multitudes of things that are of great importance in this whole debate and to make the mistake of taking one or two aspects in isolation is unforgivable since it does not address some important issues. Let me cite an example or two. Think of the families who are struggling to keep food on the table as they try to balance the budget, pay the bills, pay the mortgage, schooling for kids, travel and so on. The question here that is faced by food shoppers every time they shop is how to make the dollar stretch. Its clear that they will make choices based on dollar value and not on some nationalistic, health, holistic, organic premise, they will decide on the basis of keeping food on the table and who can blame them. In that case we have to ask, what is the solution to this and how do we address it?

Let me site you one further example, I have just returned from the supermarket, my bill there $159.00 and that was because I choose organic, free range, responsible etc. A member of my own family who is raising her children without the benefit of a second income, would spend that sum per week and has to look at the financial merits of every single thing she purchases since her income is limited.

My sense is that we are caught in the grip of a cost push spiral of wages versus costs, not a good thing. That the world is orientated towards the haves and those who are happy to make do, are frowned upon as being yesterdays people. I am in fact just as guilty as the next one having just downloaded the latest Apple operating system when the one I had was perfectly adequate.  I was seduced into buying it! I was a victim of the add campaigns waged by a multi national corporation who is already as rich as they need to be and makes its people feel deeply inadequate if they do not have the latest and greatest. They are just one among many. Can it be said that we are in the thrall of the advertising/spin doctors whose job it is to make us buy, no matter the cost. I suspect so.

Is it that our Governments are far to concerned about election prospects and not all that concerned about the welfare of the people. Can it be said that the media hold way to large a sway on public opinion and feels that it has some right to persuade the public and indeed, governments, industry and business, to its own way of thinking. Whilst I may be asking for a swift smack, I have criticised two of Melbourne’s sacred food icons lately, the Wine and Food festival with its unseemly attention on international stars of the culinary world and The Age newspaper Epicure Magazine which does now seem to be unduly focussed on making a profit (it may be called Economic Rationalisation!) and not always on the serious business of keeping our noses all clean and to the grindstone when it comes to food.

Canberra, and indeed all states have well established lobby groups, always with many sides of any one story and an agenda to push. The peak bodies of food growers of all sorts are endeavouring to make sure that the market place is a level playing field, that local growers are given an advantage in their own country and overly subsidised foods from other countries do not destroy local industry. The unions on the other hand are obsessed with wage push and with keeping their members in work. The manufacturing industry wants to see growth and gain at every turn in order to pacify share holders. Most are at odds in their desired outcomes. Its not difficult to see why a government can become moribund in the face of such pressures. I suspect that there are a few examples of just this situation now obvious.

So then, is the threats that China issues, things like the recent comments by a Chinese diplomat clearly aimed at helping Chinese dollar and product find more of its way into Australia. We are fortunate that this comment was of sufficient import to provoke Kevin Rudd to comment, see

And lets hope it was heard. It does seem that many countries can practise a degree of protectionism of their own boarders and land mass, but that they wish to impose a quite different set of rules on to countries they see as possible markets, is just not on.

Is there a possible solution to the dilemma that confronts us at so many levels, well yes, but it will take the government into unpopular waters with newspapers, unions and big business. It will not be at all popular with the two giants of the supermarket world in Australia as they must also become part of the solution, clear and transparent and not be part of the problem. It is frightening to see these places which were once seen as a food seller, now branching into insurance, hardware, money lending and many more some still no doubt on the drawing board. (as is their right) They also have to answer in very transparent ways the criticism that they are manipulating farmers in order to be able to offer the huge discounts on such things as bread and milk currently going on. We clearly need a much more rigorous system that will police these things, the days of self regulation need to be ended and the government who, in case they need reminding, are elected by the people for just such work and that to abrogate their responsibility to the very people who are in the best position to rort the system, seems ludicrous.

~ by peterwatson on August 2, 2011.

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