Tiny fruit fly sours Australia’s ag plan

SYDNEY, Australia (Reuters) — A tiny fruit fly is undermining Australia’s efforts to take advantage of new free trade agreements and expand its $3 billion fruit and vegetable exports.

Australia sealed trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea last year, which guaranteed a significant reduction in tariffs for agriculture produce and were heralded as a catalyst for rapid expansion in exports.

The tariff cuts have pushed sales of agriculture produce to all-time highs, but difficulty obtaining biosecurity permits means many fruits cannot be sold into markets such as China. Industry executives say these roadblocks often make free trade agreements meaningless.

“Phytosanitary protocol agreements are the biggest hurdle we have to overcome to get our products into markets like China,” said Annie Farrow, industry services manager with Apple and Pear Australia.

Australia’s fruit and vegetable exports make up 10 percent of the country’s $30 billion in agriculture exports, but they are being targeted for rapid growth as the country tries to transition its economy away from a slowing mining sector.

Biosecurity hazards pose problems for all agricultural produce in accessing major markets such as China, but horticulture is seeing the greatest obstacles because of the Queensland fruit fly, which is found across Australia’s mainland.

Only a handful of products, including citrus and table grapes, can be sold into China.

Sales of other fruit such as apples, cherries and oranges to markets such as Japan and South Korea are restricted because of concerns about imports of the pest, whose larvae feed on ripening fruit and cause it to rot. The island state of Tasmania is free from the fruit fly and has signed a raft of agreements with Asia’s largest economies, demonstrating the cost of the pest.

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