Cheap import tariffs considered by Productivity Commission

The Productivity Commission will look into the possible introduction of "safeguards" against imported processed fruits and tomatoes, following SPC Ardmona's announcement that it will axe up to 114 growers for next summer.

The high exchange rate and a decline in export markets led the fruit processor to cut back its quotas, with the company asking the federal government to introduce special protection safeguards, including an emergency tax on imports.

As a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Australia has made binding commitments in relation to the trade of goods and services, but the WTO allows safeguard measures to be introduced in response to "unexpected and unforeseen increases in imports which are causing or threatening to cause serious injury to the domestic industry."

The Commission is to report its findings to the government within the next three months, far too liberal a time frame, according to KAP federal leader and member for Kennedy, Bob Katter.

"SPC Ardmona pleaded with the government several months ago for emergency safeguards, but on Friday we are told that an inquiry just to consider whether temporary tariffs are even justified is not due to report to government for another three months – after the election," he said.

Katter called on the government to endorse the emergency tariffs on cheap imports, which he says are threatening the viability of homegrown food processors, such as SPC.

"The competitiveness of Aussie food producers is already badly handicapped by our artificially-inflated Australian dollar, which makes it up to 60 percent cheaper to import foreign produce at the expense of Australian jobs and industry," he said.

"Let every Australian understand – SPCA is the not just our country's last fruit processor; it is also the Goulbourn Valley’s biggest private employer, injecting some $63 million into the local economy through almost 900 direct full-time staff and supporting a further 2700 jobs, including the training of young apprentices.

"The collapse of SPCA would lead to even more farmers being forced to leave their good quality, home-grown fruit go to rot on the ground," Katter said.