Failing to accept that the buyer calls the shots in the market place is the greatest risk facing Western Australia in its attempts to capture new Asian export markets.
Agriculture Minister Ernie Bridge told the 'Into Asia' conference in Perth today that Asia knew what it wanted and the challenge for WA was to meet that demand.
"We have a State with a year-round growing season that spans 2,000 kilometres from Kununurra to Albany. We can maintain the supply of fresh produce all year, and deliver it fresh to Asian markets faster than most competitors," Mr Bridge said.
"While WA is making increasing use of its geographical advantage, the harsh reality of a competitive market place is that close proximity alone does not ensure success.
"If we stick with old ideas and offer only what we find convenient to grow, we will inevitably concede many new market opportunities."
Mr Bridge said his tour last year of the Sunworld company's production and marketing operations in California provided a graphic example of how tough the competition was.
"Sunworld, with an annual turnover of $460 million, operates a $1.5 million a year tissue-culturing laboratory to rapidly transform the whims of its international customers into reality," he said.
"I was shown a new patented mango variety which Sunworld was developing, where the parent stock was planted in a locked, guarded compound, surrounded by razor wire on top of a two-metre high chainmesh fence.
"Sunworld markets successfully into Asia. Its prices might be a little higher because of transport distances, but the company maintains its edge with innovative products and its eagerness to please the customer."
Mr Bridge said products tailor-made for customers were already leaving Western Australia, and in increasing quantities.
"I cannot give enough praise to the forward-thinking producers and companies who have risen to meet this challenge," he said.
"But we need to focus more and more on action and initiatives to further that tailoring process and to readily identify and access new market opportunities."
Mr Bridge used the example of rockmelon exports from the Ord to illustrate what could be achieved when industry and Government worked together.
"Two years ago, the Ord District Co-operative requested assistance from my office in exploring export potential into Asia for rockmelons," he said.
"The co-op knew of markets in the region and was concerned that, despite Kununurra's closeness, it had a very small share of those markets.
"We quickly got a study going to answer those questions, and the situation now is that exports rose 60 per cent in volume in 1991, and in 1992, there was a further 82 per cent rise."
Mr Bridge said the State Government's commitment to exports was reflected in initiatives such as the establishment last year of the Ministerial Export Marketing Unit, the recent restructuring of the Department of Agriculture to give trade and marketing greater emphasis in research and extension programs, and the creation of a special marketing unit, Agwest Development, within the department.