Australian Vegetable Imports

Published online: Apr 19, 2006
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Despite the Australian uproar about imported vegetables putting local growers out of business, a new report says the most recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows imports accounting for less than 10 percent of total consumption.

And the Australian Bureau of Resource Economics report says Australian producers of fresh market vegetables are generally competitive in both the domestic and overseas markets, although competition from overseas producers is increasing, particularly in Australia's export markets.

"International competition in the domestic fresh vegetable market is generally negligible," the report says. "In general, Australia imports only small volumes of fresh vegetables. This indicates that Australian producers are mostly producing at a price level that is competitive with the price of potential fresh vegetable imports."

The report was commissioned after the uproar caused when Tasmanian potato growers lost half their contract with fast food chain Macdonald's Australia to New Zealand growers.

The report says frozen prepared potatoes are mainly imported from New Zealand, and the main recipient of Australian exports of prepared frozen potato products is New Zealand. Between 1994 and 2004, the average trade balance in this product category was around 5,000 tonnes in favor of New Zealand, with a relatively flat trend being evident.

"Allowing for 50 percent wastage in processing, this trade deficit with New Zealand equates to less than 1 percent of Australian potato production," the report says.

ABARE's analysis of the domestic retail situation found that the majority of vegetables sold were Australian grown, or significantly transformed in Australia. At least 95 percent of fresh potatoes sold in supermarkets were grown in Australia.

In the frozen vegetable segment, 9 percent of potatoes were identified as being imported.

In the canned vegetable segment, 67 percent of potatoes had a majority of product that was a product of, or made in, Australia.

The report says a number of processed potato products are imported into Australia, including frozen prepared potatoes, potato starch and preserved potatoes. Together, these three types accounted for 86 percent of all imported processed potato products in 2004/2005.

"The value of potato product imports, although increasing rapidly since around 2000, has returned to levels observed throughout much of the 1990s," it says.

"Since 2000, New Zealand production had displaced product from both Canada and the United States and now accounts for approximately 60 percent of processed potato imports."

More than 90 percent - in value terms - of the imports from New Zealand are frozen prepared potatoes. Imports of the New Zealand product account for almost 90 percent of imports in this market segment.

"A factor contributing to the growth of imports from New Zealand is the declining price of the manufactured product," the report says. "The real landed price of prepared frozen potato products from New Zealand has been declining at a rate of more than 3 percent a year since the early 1990s; the rate has been almost twice that since 2000."

A total of 22,300 tonnes of frozen prepared potatoes were imported in 2004/2005. Using the industry specified conversion factor of 2:1 for producing frozen french fries from raw potatoes, this level of imports is equivalent to approximately 44,000 tonnes of fresh potatoes.

With approximately 600,000 tonnes of potatoes produced in Australia for the processing sector, imports accounted for around 7 percent of domestic production.