Monday 9 November 2009

Food exports good, food imports bad

I heard the other day that Australia grows enough food to feed 80 million people. We export enough food to feed 60 million people - the equivalent of the UK.

Another way of thinking about that is we only eat 1/4 of what we grow. We export 3/4 of what we grow.

Consider then the SMH getting upset when our supermarkets start selling - the horror - imported food.

It comes as consumer and industry groups have accused supermarket giants of lowering standards of fresh produce, particularly by shunning local growers in favour of cheaper, imported produce.

I remember a concept known as "comparative advantage". If the Chinese are better at growing cabbages than we are, but we are better at raising cattle, then it makes sense for us to import Chinese cabbages and for the Chinese to import our beef. We both gain through this process.

So what is the problem with us importing a bit of food, given how much we export? Remember all that nasty wheat that we sold to Iraq? Remember those poor sheep that we flog to middle eastern throat slashers? Remember all that lovely, expensive seafood that we sell to the Japanese, such as our best quality tuna for sushi?

Another case of those geniuses at the SMH failing to light up the single brain cell that they share.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, BOAB, this import/export process is not always as benign as you suggest.

Since the 1980s Australia has been exporting cattle livestock and semen to China and other parts of Asia in order to improve these countries' breeding programs.

During the past decade there has been a concerted rationalisation of Australia's dairy herds and now an ETS threat to the beef cattle industry, to the point where it's a very real possibility Australia will be a future substantial importer of beef and dairy products (from China, no less).

This is shameful for a country that is well able to provide for its food needs in every respect with high-quality, disease-free produce.

And no, I'm not remotely connected to the agriculture industry, but I am a consumer, and I do object that the major supermarket chains can dictate my food intake to this extent.

Rant over

Boy on a bike said...

Ah, but the beauty of our free enterprise system is that we have a choice. I can shop locally at a 2nd tier supermarket that clearly labels where all its produce originates from, or from two wog fruit shops that offer an eclectic (and better) selection of fruit and vegies.

If an entrepreneur thinks the demand is there, they can start up a chain of fruit and vegie shops that sell nothing but Australian produce. What I object to is the hidden message in the SMH article that our ability to choose should be removed and that imports from China etc should be stopped.

The ETS will be an utter disaster - no doubt about that. The policy idea that our food security could be threatened by a tax on the weather is beyond stupid.

bigtones said...

The joy at hearing that perhaps most of the opposition are having problems believing the global warming science is joy to my ears. To hear Penny Wrong wail about this is music. My fear exists that it will be railroaded and enough dissenters will allow it through the Senate. I hear that Copenhagen is unlikely to come to an agreement involving fixed targets, and we wanted to set our ETS before to show ourselves as a world leader on the topic. Lets hope the doubt stalls the process longer so that we can get another couple of years of balanced research out into the public domain and people can be aware of how dangerous this legislation will be.
As to our beef industry, that is as much doomed by changes in dietry behaviour as export markets. Ask yourself, when was the last time you had a 300gm (big yes, but not huge) steak?