The chief executive of one of the world’s biggest agribusiness companies says Australia has a major opportunity to “step up and fill the gap’’ selling more food products to Asian markets following the US’s decision to abandon the Trans Pacific Partnership global trade deal.
Cargill chief executive David MacLennan told The Australian and Visy’s fifth annual Global Food Forum this week that Australia was “one of the major bread baskets of the world’’ with its growing production of beef, wheat, canola and other oil seeds.
“I think with scrapping of the TPP and with consumption increasing in places like Indonesia, China, other nations in Southeast Asia, I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for Australia to step up and fill the gap,’’ Mr MacLennan said.
The decision by the US Trump administration to drop its support for the Trans Pacific Partnership has brought back into focus the Chinese-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which has the support of both sides of Australian politics.
Cargill Australia would be the beneficiary of such a deal given it has operations across the grain, oilseed storage and meat processing sectors and owns the nation’s largest malt producer.
Mr MacLennan said he was worried about the potential for rising global protectionism as Cargill had always been an advocate for open trade and inclusive trade policies.
“This is a 150-year-old company, and when we first started it was based in the US. We’ve been an international company for many decades,” he said.
“So we depend on open trade. We are a supporter of it for obvious reasons. But our business model is one that moves food from where it’s grown, where it’s produced, to where it’s needed. We think that’s a good thing.”
While he hoped the TPP could be revived or kept together, he was more hopeful that the US would be able to continue an open trading platform with Asia-Pacific nations including Australia through bilateral trade agreements or other forms of open trade.
He said Cargill had a responsibility to make it clear to the world that trade was a good thing.
“It’s a job creator. If you look at the statistics about, you know, where American products go in terms of their exports, it’s good for American agricultural production … so we want to work with the Trump administration to develop inclusive trade policies,’’ Mr MacLennan said.
He also echoed the comments of Visy executive chairman Anthony Pratt that Australia must remain open to foreign investment after federal Treasurer Scott Morrison last year blocked Chinese bids for the Kidman cattle empire and NSW electricity group Ausgrid.
Cargill abandoned a bid for ingredients business Goodman Fielder several years ago after it was blocked by the local competition regulator.
“I understand they had their reasons for it, but I think being welcome and open, keeping the markets open, just for domestic production, obviously, but also for foreign capital,’’ he said.
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