Trump trade war overshadows plight of Australia's chickpea farmers


Donald Trump's threat to raise tariffs on Australian steel has overshadowed the plight of the nation's chickpea farmers who have been effectively shut out of one of their biggest export markets.

As of March 1, the tariff on chickpeas going to India stands at 60 per cent, sending the lucrative industry into crisis.

"India is the largest consumer, producer and importer of pulses in the world. And chickpeas are a sizeable portion of that," said Stefan Vogel, global strategist for grains and oilseeds at RaboResearch Food and Agribusiness.

Dealing with two record-growing seasons and a continuation of large imports, Mr Vogel said the Indian government tried to support its local growers.

"The Indian Government was looking for a way to stabilise prices and clearly the stabilisation came with the introduction of various duties," he said.

A booming industry in crisis

According to industry figures, the value of Australian chickpea exports to India in 2016/17 were $1.14 billion.

Comparatively, the US accounts for about 0.8 per cent of Australia's steel exports and about 1.5 per cent of aluminium exports.

Those are industries worth about $545 million to Australia's economy.

Chickpea exports to India have halted after a 60 per cent tariff was placed on imports in the country

Backing Australia's farmers, the Federal Government has tried to help its chickpea growers.

One of the first jobs of new Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud was a trip to India to discuss the high tariffs.

But compared to prime ministerial phone calls and the assistance of golfer Greg Norman in nullifying US steel tariffs — it has been a quieter response.

"It seems there is a higher degree of influence from what's going on in America than what's really happening at the coal face for Australian [chickpea] growers," said the chairperson of Grain Producers Australia, Andrew Weidemann.

"I think most farmers are looking at it and are saying, 'What's going on? Where do they [the Government] place agriculture in the scheme of things?'"

The constant changing of tariff prices in India is wearing thin for Australian growers.

"I would think six or seven thousand farming businesses down the east coast [of Australia] would have been affected by this," Mr Weidemann said.

Cam Parker, who farms near Boort in north-central Victoria, just wants certainty in the market so he knows what he should be planting for the next season.

"As a seasonal grower of pulses, the number one thing we look for is stability in the market," he said.

"Whether it's a case of there is being tariff or not, it is all about that stability."


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