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Aussies set to reclaim export market

Leslie White, Weekly Times Now
October 24, 2008

ONE country's loss could be another country's gain as Australian vegetable growers look to capitalise on food safety issues in China and a deflated Aussie dollar.

Australian exporters will look to reclaim markets in Japan, Malaysia and Singapore - all currently importing massive amounts of vegetables from China.

Last week, Chinese produce was involved in yet another food scare when a Japanese woman was hospitalised after eating frozen green beans. Testing showed the level of the organic phosphate pesticide dichlorvos was 34,500 times the legal limit.

The incident reignited tensions over food safety between Japan and China.

Australian growers continue to compete with a flood of cheap imports domestically, particularly in frozen vegetables - largely from China.

AusVeg chief economist Ian James said the falling dollar and continuing Chinese food safety issues provided a "big opportunity" for local produce both domestically and internationally. "People are going to start looking on the back of labels (for country of origin) before they buy," Mr James said.

"There is the possibility of growth in markets we lost to China. Japan would be a good one, also Singapore and Malaysia."

Australia sold a significant amount of vegetables to all three countries until cheaper Chinese produce started to push out Aussie produce in about 2002.

Mr James said given Australian exporters were selling product in those countries earlier this decade, it would be relatively easy to re-open communication with old contacts.

Managing director of export company Fresh Select, John Said, said his Singapore contact rang him twice last week, trying to source Australian vegetables.

"There is demand . . . and no doubt there are opportunities," Mr Said said.

He said Japan imported more than 60 per cent of its food and although it had high quarantine regulations, these were not unworkable.