Hassad Australia’s strategy, planning and executive projects manager Mark Barber told an Australian Agriculture Ministry ABARES regional conference that the GCC’s growing wealth and population would see its food import requirements increase, creating an increasingly important market for Australian food producers.
“GDP growth is rising by 4-5% annually, largely around petroleum, but there is a large emphasis on … using those huge resource dollars to diversify. With rising wealth we are seeing a pretty significant rise in red meat consumption in excess of 5% a year,” said Barber at the conference.
“The change in these markets is quite profound, disposable income is rising enormously and in the food catering market expenditure there is rising at staggering rates,” he added.
Catching up to Asia
Barber also compared the GCC market to Asia, traditionally Australia’s largest export market. He said the Gulf’s growth in consumption of cereal grains was comparable to Asian markets, and was increasing rapidly.
“It's not on the same scale as the Asian markets, but given the relative scale of the Australian production to Asian markets and the relative scale of production in the Middle Eastern market it still represents a very significant opportunity,” said Barber.
He was keen to emphasise Hassad’s Australian identity, and position it as a firm adding to the Australian farming sector: “As an Australian company invested heavily in agriculture in Australia with a parent company with strong links to the Middle East we see significant opportunities for Hassad to market our products back into that country and add quite a bit of value along the way.”
Hassad under fire
Hassad Australia, which is wholly owned by Qatar Holdings, part of the Qatar Investment Authority sovereign wealth fund, has come under fire since starting operations in 2009, with critics accusing it of buying up excessive amounts of farmland in Australia.
In June Hassad Australia finalised the purchase of 14,000 hectares of South Australian farmland, in a deal worth US$66.8m. Altogether the firm has bought 14 major sheep and wheat farms along with other properties in four Australian states, totalling an area of 287,000 hectares, according to The Australian.
Local and national politicians in Australia have criticised Hassad’s activities, and have called for foreign investment rules for agricultural land to be tightened.
Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Barber acknowledged the concern, but suggested Hassad was able to allay most of the potential issues raised by its critics, saying, “in our experience, once people get to know us and how we operate, it’s not an issue”.