CHICKPEA farmers in Australia exporting their produce are faced with harsh income reductions after the Indian government imposed a 30 per cent tariff on Australian chickpeas and lentils entering India.
New federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud will travel to India from January 20-24 to discuss with India's ministers the import tariff imposition and resolve the issue that could affect 83,000 tonnes of chickpeas worth $58 million currently at sea, according to Pulses Australia.
Mr Littleproud said while India was within its right under the WTO to raise its tariffs, it made life extremely tough for farmers when the returns changed after a crop was planted.
"Growers need certainty to make decisions which affect their lives,” he said.
"I will ask the Indian officials to give some consideration to honouring those contracts that were in place before the 21st of December when they imposed this tariff, and also try and work collaboratively with them to get a protocol whereby we can get some more lead-up time about when these tariffs may be imposed, so that we can give producers more long-term certainty about their planting options.”
Mr Littleproud said he aimed to build on the good work of Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Steven Ciobo, who is negotiating the free trade agreement with India.
AgForce Grains president Wayne Newton said India's decision to slap a 30 per cent tariff on Australian chickpeas was a "devastating blow” for Queensland grain growers, who produced 86 per cent of the nation's chickpeas exports.
"Chickpeas are Queensland's fastest growing export product, increasing by more than 300 per cent in 2016/17 to be worth almost $800 million, largely through demand from India,” Mr Newton said.
"So for chickpeas where farmers were getting $800-900 per tonne, they could see nearly $300 a tonne less return now with the introduction of the tariff.
"We haven't heard a lot of reasons put forward (on imposing the tariffs). It was more just a basic announcement, but as we understand it the Indian government is trying to drive greater self-sufficiency in food production in India and by doing this they feel they will be protecting their farmers from what they say are cheaper imports.”
Mr Newton said he welcomed Mr Littleproud's visit to India to attempt to resolve the trade dispute over chickpea imports.
"We would like to see some longer term commitment for reducing the tariff or eliminating it,” he said.
"As grain growers, we would like to see no tariffs on imports. We would like to see India develop a closer relationship with the Australian producers and actually commit in a long-term fashion to developing that as a long-term trade,” he said.
"It needs to be a two-way street, it needs reliability of production for India but Australian producers need a reliability of the market as well.”
Warra grain grower Jeff Bidstrup, who has been farming chickpeas since 1978, said they were anticipating a change in the market but didn't expect it to be this bad.
"I think it is disappointing. Most countries in the world are going away from tariffs and with a country like India that is trying to get self-sufficiency, such a high tariff is a bit of a surprise,” he said.
"But I think we have to put it into perspective - the price is still, after this, higher than what it has been pretty much every year for the last two or three years, so historically we are still getting a good return.”
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