Banana Splits

It is usually not a good idea as a Queenslander to say something that might be portrayed as providing anything less than 150% support to banana growers. Despite that, I must say found the mini-furore sparked by the revelation that eleven thousand tonnes of Vietnamese bananas (reportedly pre-processed and frozen) had been allowed in to the country somewhat unconvincing. No doubt the fact there’s an election on in Queensland has something to do with it.

There are three distinct issues being wrapped up into one here – quarantine, prices for consumers, and ensuring the banana industry in far north Queensland recovers from the damage of Cyclone Larry.

I’m as strong a supporter as anyone of strict quarantine laws, and there’s no doubt that the desire to pursue a free trade at all costs agenda has driven down quarantine standards to dangerous levels in some circumstances. There is no doubt that there are disease risks from bananas coming from some south-east Asian countries, and any queries about any potential risks with this shipment of bananas much be answered, although the risk should be very much diminished with pre-processing. However, there’s also no doubt that quarantine arguments are sometimes used as a crude mechanism for industry protectionism. The danger with overstating the case for protectionist reasons is that it can weaken the credibility of your argument when there is a genuine quarantine concern.

It is obvious from the lines being run by the ALP federally and at state level that it is protectionism that they are really appealing to, not quarantine risk. Given that the cost of fresh bananas in Australian supermarkets is still above the pre-cyclone price, it is hard to see how oversupply is a problem for them. As I understand it, the Vietnamese bananas won’t be sold in shops, they will be used in food processing. Making Australians pay more for their bananas or for food containing bananas by falsely restricting supply doesn’t sound to me like a very good idea, and it’s also hard to see how it would help banana growers in north Queensland or anywhere else.

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two questions were asked on this topic in House of Representatives Question Time:

• This one by the Liberal Member for the seat of Herbert, which covers Townsville
This one by Kim Beazley

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7 Comments

  1. Isn’t it more than likely that bananas would have been imported like this into Australia for use in food processing before Cyclone Larry? I can’t imagine anyone buying fresh bananas from north Queensland to put in a tin of processed fruit salad when bananas from Asian countries would probably be much cheaper. I also can’t imagine what competition banana growers feel they could face when they are growing fresh bananas and the imported bananas are just pre-processed and frozen. I certainly wouldn’t go to my local fruit store to buy a nice bunch of peeled frozen bananas.

  2. By the way and completely off topic, this blog is a really great idea. I wish there was more of this in Australia. It’s difficult to know much about any politicians views when all you can read are short selective quotes in the media.

  3. Surprised to see a Democrat leaning toward the side of free trade…my natural prejudice was to assume the opposite.

    I think that globalisation and free trade are generally good – if we can buy cheaper products from overseas we should.

    To make this easy, you’d need to see a fundamental cultural shift in this country, so that education filled people with a sense of their own power. Otherwise the habit of protecting current industries in the name of safety and security will be very popular.

  4. I don’t like the ALP and I think both countries would do well out of increased trade between Australia and Viet-Nam but ALP is right in their opposition (for the time being) to the import of untested agricultural products from Viet-Nam.

    Taiwan, Japan, New Zealand and the Irish Republic (all islands) all enjoy market advantages because of their good quarantine status.

    Now irresponsible elements in the federal government want to imperil our status and the livlihood of many Australians just to satisfy their own personal ratbag cult beliefs.

    If Vietnamese processed products are subjected to normal rigorous testing and pass all tests with flying colours then there is little objection to buying them (so long as our own banana farmers aren’t driven to ruin by that). But in the meantime, sack the fools who are endangering our own industry’s disease-free status.

  5. Andrew,

    On reading through this item, I have to agree with your comments.

    As Queenslanders see the end of the election campaign, it is interesting to see federal issues being raised by the ALP.
    I see it as a distraction on hiding the ongoing problems within the Beattie Administration.

    Re the importation of bananas and the attack on the Prime Minister by the ALP, pulp was the product. So a storm in a tea cup?

  6. re the Free trade comment, surely the best way for people in developing and underdeveloped countries to improve their lot in life is to sell their goods and services. If that’s Free Trade, then I’m all for it.

    What seems to be one major problem is when the USA, EU and Japan in particular subsidise their farmers so that it’s no longer economical to import cheaper products from other countries, despite their much cheaper labour.

  7. I have not eaten a banana for months as I live way down south and they are still $13 to $16 per kilo. While the industry may have been protected, many of us have found other fruits and may not go back to bananas. How is this good for the Australian banana industry? If you cut off supply of a product demand shifts to others and sometimes the replacement products become more trusted. Why could we not have had imported bananas to support demand until the industry recovered?

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