August 1, 2018 / 4:02 AM / 10 months ago

Indian farm product tariffs curbing Australian exports: minister

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s exports of farm products to India have taken a hit because of new tariffs and free trade negotiations between the two countries have stalled, trade minister Steven Ciobo said on Wednesday.

“Australian farm exporters to India have been whacked with a range of new trade distortions over the past year,” Ciobo told a grains industry conference in Melbourne.

“This has included higher tariffs on chickpeas, wheat and lentils, quantitative restrictions on mung beans and yellow peas and what we consider export subsidies on sugar.”

Pulses imports to India, the world’s biggest buyer, may fall to their lowest in nearly two decades after the government raised import taxes and restricted overseas purchases to bolster prices, affecting the plans of its global suppliers.

Australia exported A$1.3 billion ($964 million) of agricultural goods to China in 2015/16, according to the latest figures from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The reduction in imports illustrates New Delhi’s steps to raise the prices of pulses, like peas and lentils, as it looks to reduce payouts to farmers under a food subsidy scheme.

Farmers in Canada, Australia and Russia that rely on Indian demand are expected to intensify their cutbacks in pulses cultivation, while seeking other markets.

Ciobo said Australia is keen for a bilateral Free Trade Agreement or Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement with India.

“Unfortunately, those negotiations have been stalled because our positions have been too far apart. In the interim, the government has been looking at ways beyond free trade agreements to expand our bilateral economic relationship.”

Regarding the U.S.-China trade war, Ciobo he was seeking more details from the United States about a package it has given to soybean farmers.

“I also wanted to refer to the U.S. announcement of a new package of up to $12 billion in assistance for U.S. farmers,” he said.

“We are seeking more details from the US about the assistance package in order to assess possible impacts on Australian farmers and commodity exports.”

China has imposed retaliatory tariffs on U.S. soybeans amid an escalating trade war between the world’s biggest economies.

The world’s biggest importer of soybeans, China is seeking alternative origins for the oilseed including Brazil.

Reporting by Naveen Thukral; editing by Richard Pullin

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