CALL OFF THE WITCH HUNT: Mike Hayes worries that a coronavirus investigation could have widespread and long-lasting ramifications in our region.
CALL OFF THE WITCH HUNT: Mike Hayes worries that a coronavirus investigation could have widespread and long-lasting ramifications in our region.

‘Biting the hand that feeds’: Region responds to tariff war

AT MT Cotton's Sirromet Wines, the past 12 months have been a testament to the perseverance of winemaker Mike Hayes.

Surviving through a severe drought the likes of which the Ballandean local had never seen before, followed by fire, frost, hailstorms, and a caterpillar infestation - Mr Hayes thought there was nothing more nature could throw.

However, his next battle - the war on tariffs - is one that threatens to wipe out the industry as he knows it.

After China imposed a devastating 80 per cent tariff on barley imports from Australia, other agricultural sectors have begun bracing themselves for a secondary fallout.

Chinese officials have reportedly drawn up a list of potential goods next on the list, including dairy, wine, and fruit - the agricultural staples of the Southern Downs.

Mr Hayes said it was a worrying concern for the winery, whose Chinese exports played a "significant importance to company turnover",

"I find it really challenging for us going forward," he said.

"As we know, 38 per cent of wine exports are into China, and without that, we have to find a new home for our wine.

"Before coronavirus, the US market was becoming quite a strong place for everybody, but not anymore, their economy is struggling over there too.

"My worry is that southern American and South African wine will become the more viable wine to import."

Along with restrictions to the international backpacker base and threats to the Southern Downs' food export hub in Toowoomba's Wellcamp airport, Mr Hayes feared Queensland's premier foodbowl could soon be in dire straits if the Australian government didn't stop its "witch hunt" on China.

"It's small towns like us that are going to hurt. You're seeing shops in town slowly close down and I don't think any business will come back to what it was before," Mr Hayes said.

"We're coming out of one of the most crucial economic crises we've ever had and they're biting the hand that could get us back on our feet.

"If they don't work out how to support small business and find us another major trade partner to export our produce too, they will be seeing farmers on the unemployment queues as well."

On Friday, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the Federal Government was continuing discussions with Chinese officials as they underwent an appeals process to contest that barley farmers were dumping the grain.

Speaking at a Southern Downs press event, Mr Littleproud said Australian exporters had the duty represent their nation appropriately.

"The important thing is that anyone that exports needs to understand that they meet the specifications of the countries they're importing to," Mr Littleproud said.



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