Hungry young foreigners who crowd around the lavish food samples waiting to be eaten in Tokyo department store food halls tend to steer clear of cheese. Unless they’re really, really hungry, because cheese that’s usually on offer is an odd tasting blend of soy-and-dairy, chocolate-and-cheese and other ingredients, added to make the cheese content go further.
Real cheeses – there are French cheeses proclaiming their provenance usually with a tricolour or two thrown in for good measure are expensive and seldom offered for tasting.
So what’s not to like about the opportunity Australian dairy farmers and cheese makers have to crack the Japanese market, with the signing of the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership – you know the one that Bill Shorten said was dead in the water, after the Americans pulled out.
Australian negotiators, led by Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, buckled down and went to work, painstakingly going over objections and hiccups (Canada had some reservations, and initially talked out following the US example, but was talked down and brought back into the 11 nation trade deal.) And now, in time for Australia Day – put another lamb chop on the barbie- they’re sorted, fingers crossed.
North Asians know about food security. Elderly Tokyo-ites will hesitatingly talk about the “hunger years” during World War II and the time immediately after, when their city, firebombed, saw people hunting through the rubble for anything edible to sustain life. That was how the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (“Not liberal, democratic or a party” as one of its critics famously said) managed to stay in power for decades, by protecting rice farmers, the people who put food in the country’s bowls when all else failed.
New middle classes are emerging across Asia and Australia has the land and resources to supply those needs. Chinese mothers don’t trust Chinese milk products after that terrible scam that saw the deaths of babies given milk powder mixed with contaminants. That’s why, in Australian international airports, returning Chinese tourists carry economy-size tins of milk powder back with them.
The TPP, Ciobo said, “would eliminate more than 98 per cent of tariffs in a free trade-zone with a combined GDP of $13.7 trillion.” The deal abolishes all tariffs on seafood, wine, wine, sheep meat, and other manufactured goods, with Japan speeding up the reduction of import barriers for beef imports and eliminating several tariffs on Australian cheese.
Japan’s beef market has til now been notoriously difficult to crack, under the TPP barriers are slowly falling away.
Countries in Asia are slowly coming around to the idea that food shortages are not inevitable, the rice harvest may fail but mass starvation will not occur, as it did in previous centuries. New, interesting food imports will now arrive in Asia to enliven and energise from clean green Australia (sorry New Zealand, that’s us, too) via the TPP.
Australian beef growers who saw their livelihoods disappear when the Gillard government abruptly halted beef exports to Indonesia on the strength of an ABC television expose (“They gave us no time, no warning, no negotiation,” an Indonesian civil servant declared angrily.)
If you were in Bali, Jogya, Surabaya or any of the Indonesian other tourist spots at that time and wondered why your meat tasted a bit different, blame the ban. You were eating buffalo.
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