MARKET FREEZE: Chickpeas are sitting in silos with nowhere to go while the export market lies in limbo.
MARKET FREEZE: Chickpeas are sitting in silos with nowhere to go while the export market lies in limbo. Emma Boughen

Chickpea mess a job for Minister

SOUTHERN Downs farmers hope the all-but-dead chickpea market will witness a resuscitation when Agricultural Minister David Littleproud travels to India on January 20 to discuss a 30 per cent tariff that has devastated the export market.

The huge tariff means anyone importing chickpeas to India will have to pay 30 per cent more, a decision that has brought export sales to a grinding halt.

Allora-based farmer David Peters has tonnes of chickpeas with nowhere to go since the tariff was introduced in December.

"Basically we are unable to sell our chickpeas for any sort of money,” Mr Peters said.

"No one really even wants to put out a price.

"It's tying up silos and tying up cash flows.”

Mr Littleproud said discussions in India would focus on trying to restore some certainty for farmers and ensure a positive trade relationship between the two countries.

"I will be looking for a way forward to establish a protocol that would give more notice to our farmers if they want to bring in such tariffs.”

He will also ask for an exemption on 200,000 tonnes of chickpeas that were in transit when the tariff was introduced.

"We're hoping that some consideration will be given to the chickpeas that were contracted before the 21st of December when they imposed the tariff,” Mr Littleproud said.

Darling Downs grain broker Geoff Webb said he was hopeful the trip would be successful.

"It's pretty unfair really, to change the goalpost on someone who has bought chickpeas, has them on a boat sailing for India and suddenly add 30 per cent to the price of the chickpeas,” Mr Webb said.

"The counterparts in India don't always honour their contracts and are walking away, leaving the farmers with product that won't be accepted into the country.”

Domestic politics has been cited as the reason for the tariff, but some believe it has been introduced to encourage local chickpea sales.

Others wonder if ongoing international business tensions might also have a role to play.

India is highly reliant on Australia for chickpeas, buying $1.14 billion worth of exports in the last financial year.

Mr Peters said although the tariff created discomfort and uncertainty for farmers, he believed the market would bounce back in due time and the demand for chickpeas in India grows.

Mr Webb agreed, saying that although he supported Mr Littleproud's mission, the markets would sort themselves out.

"I'd like the government not to interfere and let the market find its level wherever that may be,” Mr Webb said.

"Government intervention invariably distorts the market for the good or the bad but in the long term supply and demand wins out.”

The tariff will add approximately $10,000 onto each container of chickpeas.