Beef industry Down Under gets injection of optimism
The first thing that struck me on walking out of Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne is the economic boom. The city is buzzing, the skyline is dotted with cranes and, shortly after 6am, we encounter gridlock on the freeway.
When the rest of the developed world was heading for recession, the Australian government adopted economic policies which have maintained the country's prosperity.
Even the beef sector got a recent injection of optimism with the signing of the Australia/Japan Free Trade Agreement (AJFTA). Last week's South Gippsland Sentinel Times reports that sales of Australian beef to Japan are expected to rise by Aus $5.5bn (€3.7bn) over the next two decades.
Tariffs on frozen Australian beef exports to Japan will fall from 38.5pc to 19.5pc over 18 years, while those on chilled beef will drop to 23.5pc over 15 years. This is a much-needed boost for Aussie beef farmers, who suffered almost two years of drought followed by other challenges such as floods, fire, a strong Australian dollar and trade disruptions.
Only a few million dollars of trade relief is anticipated, however, for Australia's dairy sector. Tyran Jones of the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria has warned that "the US and European Union are set to swamp the global marketplace with subsidised dairy products, making it even harder for Australia to compete on a level playing field".
Hopefully, the overall boom Down Under will continue for the thousands of Irish people who have emigrated there in search of opportunities. The population of Australia is 23.5m and is estimated to be growing by more than 400,000 per annum.
Ireland is seventh – after India, China, the UK, Philippines, South Africa and Vietnam – in the Australian immigrant figures. On a trip to see the famed penguin parade on Phillip Island, the introductory talk was in three languages: English and two Oriental languages, probably Cantonese and Mandarin.
I visited Australia 25 years ago on a year-long working holiday visa where I got to live what I saw as the outback dream, riding in a cattle drive of 1,300 head across a stretch of Queensland. This was no tourist trek. The hard work was real, as were the blisters on my bum.