GOT MILK: Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker, Norco CEO Brett Kelly and Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce down glasses of locally produced milk in Raleigh.
GOT MILK: Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker, Norco CEO Brett Kelly and Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce down glasses of locally produced milk in Raleigh. David Barwell

Barnaby spruiks free trade in Coffs Coast visit

THE Mid North Coast's dairy industry is on the dawn of a new era under trade deals that could turn the region into a land of milk, if not honey.

Ice-cream and mini-milk bottles produced by Norco Dairy will soon be exported to the Chinese and Japanese markets, under ambitious expansion plans for its Raleigh factory.

The co-operative currently exports around 20,000 litres of milk to China each week, but new machines coupled with recently signed free-trade agreements are set to drive production to around 38,000 litres.

Under the recently ratified China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA), all tariffs on Australian dairy products (up to 20%) will be eliminated within four to 11 years - including the 10-19% tariff on ice cream, lactose and casein.

During a tour of Norco's Raleigh factory yesterday, Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce said the CHaFTA would "drive unprecedented demand" for local product and enable it to be exported at a competitive price.

"Farmers are milking cows around Nambucca and Coffs Harbour and within days it's being drunk in Shanghai - that's how small the world has become," Mr Joyce said.

He said increased demand was also delivering improved dairy farm-gate returns, currently around 57c per litre - among the highest in Australia.

"In emerging markets we have people who are willing to pay a premium price for a premium product and we want to be the market where people go to get that product," Mr Joyce said.

"As hundreds of millions of people march into the middle class, they're going to reflect their new wealth in what they eat, and what they wear - and guess what? Australia produces both of them."

While the CHaFTA has been welcomed by Australia's dairy and livestock industries, concerns over finer details of the agreement have been flagged by other sectors including manufacturing.

The Australian Manufacturers Workers Union says Australian tariffs for some products will fall to zero under the CHaFTA, while Chinese tariffs on the same products remain the same.

Foreign investment has also been a sticking point but Mr Joyce said stricter Federal Government review thresholds were designed to provide security.

"We're the most liberal nation on earth in accepting foreign investment," he said.

"My preference always is that the Australian people are the owner of the Australian asset, but I also understand and recognise the incredible importance of foreign investment."

He said the ChAFTA would ultimately open up new opportunities on the Mid North Coast.

"At the end of the day what people really want is job security," Mr Joyce said.

"In the (Australian) dairy industry alone 40,000 people are employed directly, while another 100,000 are employed indirectly - it makes sense to do whatever we can do see that industry grow."



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