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Quality, quality and other secrets to export success in Asia

Australian food is high quality but with quality comes heightened production and exportation costs. Indeed, Australia has some of the highest costs of production anywhere in the world - but you get what you pay for.

Consumers in Asia understand this. China in particular has a penchant for high-quality Australian food, where we have a reputation for clean, green, healthy and safe primary production. They see pictures of our bright blue sky and our rolling green hills and they want that, they want to feed their family the best food on offer.

" When it comes down to it the three most important things you need are quality, quality, and quality."
Tania Chapman, Chair, Citrus Australia

As a citrus grower from Mildura in far North Victoria, I understand the value of Asia and particularly China as a key market. Citrus is the biggest-volume fresh produce exported out of Australia.

Asia is very important for the sector because we are an export-focussed industry that has always availed itself of every export opportunity. Those opportunities have helped us learn what is needed to succeed. It comes down to some basic but important points.

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TRUST

In my own experience, it's vital to get out into Asia and build up relationships. Those relationships have to be across your whole supply chain here in Australia but also within each of the countries you're exporting to.

Having feet on the ground is important. In 2014 I spent the last 15 weeks in Asia and over a 22-week period. In 2015 I was overseas for 15.

Once you meet these people it becomes vital to trust them. You have to trust the people you're dealing with and you have to get them to trust the quality you're going to deliver. There's nothing worse than commanding a premium price in a premium market and the product gets there and it's not what they want.

Especially in a market such as China, an expensive market to get to in the first place, maintaining quality is a make-or-break issue. Really when it comes down to it, the three most important things you need in exporting are quality, quality and quality.

In our industry it starts on the farm, ensuring you've got the best orchard hygiene, all the way through the packhouse program and finally in the export process itself. It is a long process and you do rely on a lot of people – bringing us back to relationships and understanding the supply chain.

FREE TRADE

The importance of relationships extends to those between the countries in which we do business. All Australian businesses will really benefit from free trade agreements with countries like Japan, Korea and China but exporters especially will.

Production costs are high so having those deals reducing tariffs means we become more competitive in those markets. In China getting these agreements over the line is crucial to the ongoing health of the sector.

Once we have our government and these other governments sitting at the table building relationships, it's then up to us to take the tools they've given and grow our businesses in those regions.

Tania Chapman is chair of Citrus Australia and chair of Voice of Horticulture and 2012's Victorian Rural Woman of the Year and a 2013 Nuffield Scholar.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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