Perspectives from the Asia-Pacific
Edited by Matthew Tonts and M. A.B. Siddique
Chapter 3: Market Efficiency, Agriculture and Prosperity in Rural Australia
Bill Pritchard and Matthew Tonts INTRODUCTION Several years ago, in December 2004, 21 Canberra-based diplomats representing countries of the European Union (EU) visited the rural city of Orange, in central-west New South Wales (NSW), with the intent to: ‘alter some of the negative perceptions in regional Australia about the EU and what are widely seen as its protectionist agricultural policies’ (Banham 2004, p. 4). Naturally enough, media accounts of the visit painted a diversity of views amongst local residents regarding this initiative. Some residents perceived it as an opportunity to build business linkages, while at the other extreme, the Sydney Morning Herald reported one as complaining that the EU was: ‘“so incredibly uncompetitive” in its agricultural policies that it was “quite galling” to have the ambassadors visit Orange’ (Banham 2004, p. 4). The visit to Orange by the EU diplomats holds no significance in itself. It gained fleeting media attention only and did not lead to any lasting announcements. But for the purposes of this chapter, it represents a poignant vignette of how the debate over agriculture’s regional economic contributions has been constructed over the years. The dominant politicoeconomic discourse on these issues in Australia is rooted in neoliberal economic theory. It asserts that the market efficiency of agriculture provides a powerful engine for economic growth in the regional economies of non-metropolitan Australia, but this capacity is undermined by the extensive ‘distortions’ of global agricultural markets because of state interventions of various kinds. Correspondingly, so goes this argument, regional development...
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