Australian blueberry growers have been chasing the lucrative China market for a decade, and are concerned that political tensions could further delay access. Despite a free trade agreement with China, the Australian Government has not yet established a blueberry export protocol with China.
President of Berries Australia Peter McPherson said the industry had done everything possible to bring the deal to fruition. "We are in communication regularly with the Department of Agriculture, who handle that side of the fence, but clearly the message we keep getting is that it's above us in the geopolitical space," he said. "I've been to China many times, to Beijing and met with the Chinese import officials, quarantine people over there, and they keep passing the ball back to Australia."
McPherson said it was concerning that other countries, including its key competitors in South America, have gained market access to China in much less time. "If you look at what Peru does, if you look at why Chile's been so successful in getting market access, it's because their ministers, right through to their prime minister and their president, will do the deal at the end of the day and in Australia we're just not good at doing that," he said.
While the industry would continue pursuing access to China, it was also looking at other opportunities throughout Asia— including re-entry into Japan.
A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture said blueberries were "the next market access priority for Australia to China." "We are currently negotiating for mainland apples as Australia's highest priority and will commence negotiations for access for blueberries once these are concluded," the spokesperson said. "We continue to work with the Australian blueberry sector in preparation for negotiating access to China."