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Friday, 19 April 2013

Middle-aged white men whinge about China's booming food market

In a story based on the food forum it's sponsoring in Melbourne, the Australian this morning runs interference around Labor's Asia push, getting a Liberal MP and a businessman, namely Peter Hughes, of the Hughes Pastoral Group, to whip the government, which is yet to establish an FTA with China. Having attended the forum and finally talked with food producers (where have they been all these years?), News Ltd journalists look across at New Zealand's FTA with China with hardly-disguised envy. Watch the video to see them trying to contain the saliva as it pools at the corners of their mouths. But as I mentioned yesterday, the Gillard government announced its Asian Century white paper in September. You wonder where all these wise men have been all this time. Have they been waiting for an opportunity to slam Craig Emerson, or have they been out there doing constructive things to further Australia's trade interests in China?

You also wonder why, among all these men pictured by the newspaper in its blanket coverage of the business event, where are all the Chinese? As I discussed back in October, there are tens of thousands of Chinese graduates living and working in Australia, having completed their university degrees here, as they wait for their permanent residency applications to be processed by the government. None of these young, talented, informed and energetic people are involved in the Visy-sponsored food gabfest in Melbourne. But it's people like them who can immediately contribute to Australia's business health by performing a vital role in linking local producers with Chinese markets. To ignore them is folly.

So Kraft Foods is setting up a food R&D facility at Ringwood in Melbourne? I hope they hire some of these young Chinese people to work there. Just think about how Chinese youth consume food in the places in our metropolitan areas where they congregate. Go to Chinatown in Sydney and see the Chinese bakeries with their specialised products. There's no accounting for taste. While young Anglos are ordering flat whites, young Chinese go for such odd concoctions as cold, milky white tea served in transparent plastic cups with extra-thick straws. And there are many varieties of tea to choose from. And while your average inner-westie might prefer a genuine Portuguese custard tart from that great shop in Petersham, the Chinese want sweet, fluffy cakes and fried sticks of dough from that low-rent store in Campsie.

Australia makes it hard for these young people to work in the jobs where they're needed. Many jobs require you to have PR already, especially government jobs, so someone on a bridging visa who has worked for, say, three years having completed a postgraduate degree - or even two postgraduate degrees - in Australia is limited in how they can contribute to the Australian economy. And the process is slow and frustrating. While applicants work while waiting for the system to operate they pay taxes but have no stake in the political process. Truly, they are ambitious if they tolerate the drawn-out humiliation embedded in the status quo.

So while a bunch of rich, white, middle-aged men whinge about Labor failing to get an FTA with China, they ignore the tens of thousands of talented, energetic, ambitious, and informed Chinese graduates living in our midst. It's just sickeningly hypocritical. What we should be asking for is that the government make it easier for Chinese graduates living here to get PR so that all these young people can fire up their neurons, roll up their sleeves, and work alongside our managers, accountants, marketing executives, and food scientists to work out ways that Australian companies can get involved in the Chinese markets that they apparently want to enter.

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