From the Experts

Focus on our own plans, not China’s

By Wayne Johnston

The latest growth figures for China released recently caused media fanfare about what it would mean for Tasmanian agriculture and also Australia more broadly.

This interest is generated by the significant increase in Chinese investment in Tasmanian agriculture, particularly in the dairy and horticulture. People are concerned that when China sneezes, Tasmania and Australia will catch a cold.

The reality is that this cliche comment does not reflect. While China may be experiencing some level of slow-down, that is the expectation and focus of the Chinese government to ensure that their economy does not over heat. This does not necessarily mean a corresponding slow-down in Chinese trading partner’s economies.

We need to keep in focus that China has historically had very high and consistent GDP growth over an extended period. The current target of somewhere in the order of 7 per cent is a figure that every other economy in the world can only dream of. By any standard GDP growth in this order is not only substantial, but demonstrates a very healthy economy. As a result, Tasmanian agriculture has nothing to fear from these latest figures.

It is obvious that China will still seek to invest in Tasmania. Any such interest only serves to underscore the confidence that the Chinese have in Tasmania’s agricultural future.

If we look to the future the predictions are that by 2030 China will be the largest economy on the planet. I often hear concerns raised around China and the purchase of agricultural land. The reality is, that if we are to have a reasonable debate around foreign ownership, we need to be clear that countries such as China are down the list of which countries owning a stake in the Australian economy. The United States and Britain far outweigh most other countries.

The real question is whether foreign ownership, irrespective of its source a fundamental and structural problem for Australia’s future?

What we should be doing as a country and a State is moving our focus from foreign ownership to ourselves. We cannot condemn other countries for having a plan and a vision for how they will feed their populations in the decades to come.

What we should be saying, and the questions we should be asking are, where is Australia’s plan for the future? Where is our vision and plan to feed future generations?

It may be that part of that strategy would be to ban and or restrict foreign ownership. Equally it could and should be about enhancing Australia’s agricultural system, and ensuring that Australian farmers are not only profitable, but sustainable for the long term.

• Wayne Johnston is Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association President.