West Australian barley farmers are devastated by the crippling tariff imposed by China on Australian imports and are bracing for a huge plunge in income.
WA Farmers president Rhys Turton says China’s 80 per cent, five-year tariff will cost farmers millions and force many to change their crops and reduce their barley production.
Mr Turton says China’s claims Australian farmers are heavily subsidised and are dumping barley “an absolute joke”.
He says subsidies to Australian growers are the lowest in the world while the dumping claims have not been substantiated.
WA growers were devastated, particularly those who had already planted for this season, Mr Turton said.
“It’s a blow.”
While WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan estimated grower incomes would be slashed by up to $200 million this year, Mr Turton said he believed it would be “significantly more”.
Mr Turton, who farms mixed grains, hay and sheep in WA’s Wheatbelt region, said growers who hadn’t yet sowed would plant substitute crops, with many choosing wheat.
He plans to reduce his barley output, which usually comprises 30 per cent of his crop.
While China’s brewers and maltsters preferred Australian barley, Mr Turton said they wouldn’t pay the much-higher prices caused by the tariff and instead turn to supplies from Europe and North America.
He strongly encourages the federal government to appeal to the World Trade Organisation, an option Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is keeping open.
“The industry would certainly support the government in its efforts,” the farmer said.
Beijing announced the tariffs on Monday, confirming the industry’s worst fears over an investigation that began in 2018 into allegations Australia “dumped” barley too cheaply into China, hurting domestic production.
The slug comprises a 73.6 per cent “dumping” tax and a 6.9 per cent tariff on supposed Australian government subsidies.
China claims the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and drought assistance amount to subsidies, which Senator Birmingham has labelled “completely ridiculous”.
The Commonwealth has stressed the trade dispute is a separate issue to Australia being among the first nations to call for answers from China about the origin of COVID-19, but those in the industry could “join the dots”, Mr Turton says.
“I think we’ve been a bit of a soft target,” he told AAP on Tuesday.
WA Premier Mark McGowan has offered to help smooth tensions but the federal government has so far not accepted.
WA Asian Engagement Minister Peter Tinley urged caution.
“You can still stand up for what you believe in but the way you do it, you conduct yourself in the international sphere, is very, very important,” Mr Tinley said.
Mr Turton said the industry was “bracing” itself awaiting negotiations.
China is Australia’s largest barley export market while Australia is its biggest supplier, with WA the major producer.