50 years ago, the United Kingdom turned its back on Australian dairy exports when it joined the European Union. At the time, I was running a small business in a dairy community. Local communities imploded.
Milk and butter factories closed or amalgamated, cheese factories shut down and milk processors ceased production. This led to job losses, community dislocation, farm realisation, economic disruption and downturn which affected everybody connected to the dairy industry.
As a farmer mate of mine recalls: ‘We were producing seven billion litres of milk each year. Four billion litres stayed in Australia and the other three billion litres was exported in the form of 60,000 tonne of butter and cheese and milk powder products. Then overnight that all stopped, and just like that, we had to find another place for that three billion litres of milk’.
50 years on, the UK looks set to sign a new Free Trade Agreement and this will be good news for all Australian farmers. With a population of 66 million, the UK is the world’s 5th largest economy, beef, lamb, rice, dairy and sugar were hit with import tariffs, reducing in the years ahead. We can expect 48,000 tonnes of dairy into the UK tariff free in 5 years.
As Ed Gannon said in the Herald Sun said on 17 June, “In the past 18 months the fragility of Australian agriculture has been laid bare – you have all the markets you want but if the cows can’t be milked or the fruit picked, then it is meaningless.”
We must now make the most of every trade opportunity we can get. Our prosperity is in our hands.
That’s just as I see it.