SYDNEY, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- Australia's sudden 100 billion U.S. dollars two-way trade with China has been headlined by a decade-long boom in energy and mining, but the growth sector of the future is one that began half a century ago.
In a deal reported to be worth over half a billion U.S. dollars, China's Bright Food Group has agreed to buy the Australian branded food business Manassen Foods marking Bright's biggest ever overseas acquisition and the latest in a flurry of Chinese investment in Australian agriculture.
Today China is Australia's second most valuable destination for agricultural products, with exports worth more than 3.4 billion Australian dollars last year.
Chinese investment in Australian farms and infrastructure has been the subject of further national handwringing as Australians come to terms with China's meteoric rise as the country's key trading partner.
Concern over Chinese investment has manifested itself most prominently in the key resource sectors, despite the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) insisting that investment is considered on a case-by-case basis.
The FIRB scrutinizes deals limited to businesses worth more than 231 million Australian dollars, which has allowed an influx of interest from Chinese buyers across the entire spectrum of agribusiness worth between 10 million Australian dollars and 200 million Australian dollars.
Agriculture is the new 'old' frontier according to Senator Joe Ludwig, Australia's Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
He told Xinhua, "Our trade relationship started over 50 years ago with agriculture. Australia delivered much-needed grain to China during a shortage in the 1960s. "Today, the relationship is not just about grain, it's about building partnerships based on understanding and cooperation and leveraging the distinct advantages to the Australia-China relationship. Both countries can provide counter-seasonal produce to fill supply gaps while close proximity, improved transport systems allow products to reach markets quickly, in quality condition."
Returning from one of Australia's largest ever trading missions to China, Trade Minister Craig Emerson said Chinese interest in Australian agriculture should be welcomed as "a wonderful opportunity" for Australia's rural communities.
Despite the perception that China is leading a massive investment tide moving across the country, Emerson warned against any embrace of economic exclusivism.
"We can envisage a future where there is extra production of beef and sheep meat in this country, which is good for our farmers, good for regional development and good for helping to meet China's food security needs," Emerson recently told journalists.
The federal government has commissioned investigations into the level of foreign ownership of rural land and agribusinesses, while at a state level the New South Wales government is reviewing the scale of offshore investment in arable land holdings.
Emerson said despite the perception, Chinese buying of Australian farms was conspicuously small.
That investment, however, is an opportunity to lift productivity, fulfill innovation and build global brands across new export markets.
"What's beckoning here is the opening of a brilliant new chapter in Australia-China commercial relations to the benefit of our farmers and to the benefit of regional Australia," Emerson said.