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The TPP Deal For Sugar Cane Growers Is Far From Sweet

08/10/2015 5:33 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 13: Allan Dingle stands on his sugar cane farm, Strathmore, in Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia, on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009. The 86 percent surge in sugar prices this year will encourage farmers worldwide to increase plantings, potentially leading to a large surplus in two years, said Martin Todd, managing director of LMC International Ltd. (Photo by Eric Taylor/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

For the thousands of sugar cane growers in Queensland and NSW, the final word on Trans-Pacific-Partnership negotiations with the United States is ultimately disappointing.

Though it was always going to be tough battling the powerful protectionist instincts of the US sugar lobby, many in the industry hoped for a $100 million boost to the bottom line; instead they have a boost of about $16 million.

We have achieved an increase from 107,000 tonnes to about 207,000. Double that figure would have been a good outcome. The increase is not to be sneezed at, but it falls far short of the mark many were hoping for.

I acknowledge that there is the potential for an annual additional allocation based on US needs, and if this occurs, Australia will have the ability to supply 23 percent of that increase. However, there is concern in the sugar industry that the prospect is a nebulous one, and 23 percent of nothing is not much of a gain.

My electorate is home to the lion's share of the nation's sugar producers and collectives and there is no doubt that thousands of men and women who derive a living from this industry feel that they are under attack, generally from forces beyond their control.

Many talk of leaving the industry and fathers regret passing on the legacy of farms to their sons. This is a sorry outcome when you consider that sugar was the commodity that cities and towns along the Queensland coast like Mackay, Proserpine, Home Hill and Ayr were founded on.

Sugar has been left out of many free trade agreements -- notably the recent Free Trade Agreement with China and the 2005 agreement with the United States, which gave no significant quota to Australian sugar.

Growers are also in the fight of their lives over sugar marketing issues. Foreign-owned millers such as Wilmar, MSF and COFCO announced last year they would exit the time-honoured marketing arrangement with Queensland Sugar Limited, and set up their own marketing arms.

The growers are not being offered a choice about who markets their sugar; they're effectively being forced to sell to a single monopoly miller. This action by millers is entrenching a lack of competition in the market and causing widespread anxiety and a growing lack of confidence.

The industry is in dire need of some good news to encourage those who are struggling with these issues, not to mention the regular challenges of adequate rainfall, intermittent cyclones and disease.

That is why in July this year I joined with a number of my National Party colleagues to draw a line in the sand on the issue of trade deals. Along with the Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry, the Member for Flynn Ken O'Dowd, the Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt, and Senator Matt Canavan, I stated that we could not in good faith support a deal that did not provide a substantial improvement in market access.

Overall, the outcome on the TPP for agriculture is extremely positive. But when it comes to sugar, this is not a substantial deal; it's an okay deal.

For that reason, I have reserved my right to cross the floor on this issue. I will make that decision in due course depending on how things play out for the sugar cane growers of my region and beyond.

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