Summer 2020: Are competition measures delivering farmers a fair go?

Summer 2020: Are competition measures delivering farmers a fair go?

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Five years ago, the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper noted ‘a fairer go for farm businesses’ as a priority action area. This year’s AFI John Ralph Essay Competition asked respondents to consider whether current competition measures are delivering that promised ‘fair go’. The submissions covered an intriguing range of ideas and responses, with one clear emergent theme: competition policy in Australia is not serving agriculture well.

Competition measures, malfunctioning markets and the ‘fair go’ provide an almost-endless source of discussion in agricultural economics policy. Stories about power imbalance and monopolistic (or monopsonistic) behaviour invoking the classic David and Goliath battles make for engaging narratives. While there are many examples of poorly functioning markets which have had a significant impact on farming businesses and industries, once the ‘big versus small’ dichotomy is removed and a more dispassionate analysis is performed the topic proves itself wickedly complex.

The two winning essays – Open and Novice categories – bookend this edition of the Farm Policy Journal. Fittingly, the Open category winner for 2020 is Chief Economist and General Manager Trade for the National Farmers’ Federation, Ash Salardini. Novice category winner Michael Wellington is a PhD student at the Australian National University. The AFI congratulates the 2020 winners along with Emma Scholz, Pete Mailler, Alexandra Lobb and Danielle Captain-Webb for their thought-provoking, and sometimes challenging, takes on this byzantine topic.

Competition policy and Australian agriculture have come a long way. It is hard to believe that less than 30 years ago Australian agriculture was subject to anti-competitive market arrangements including statutory marketing boards. National Competition Policy reforms in the mid-1990s and early 2000s dismantled market distortions and Australian agriculture began…
The Australian primary production industry has often been championed as a cornerstone industry in the Australian economy. However, market based competition principles frequently see the industry suffer as unconscionable and unethical practices often result in a race to the bottom at the expense of primary producers. Australia’s identity attempts to…

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