Western Australia now has the opportunity to become one of the world's major centres for the manufacture of high quality food, Deputy Premier Ian Taylor said today.
Mr Taylor said this had been made clear in a consultants' report just completed for the Department of State Development to determine the best strategy for boosting exports of processed food.
He said the report had advocated the creation of an independent 'Food Industry Centre', to provide all the technical and training support local companies needed to expand into overseas markets.
"Promoting the development of the food processing industry will be given top priority when the Government is re-elected," Mr Taylor said.
"An expanded food processing industry offers an opportunity not only to strengthen the State's economy, but reverse the down-turn in agriculture and bring revival to many rural communities.
"We have the necessary raw material; we have the expertise; and most importantly we have a multi-billion dollar export market for processed food expanding at an enormous rate in Asia."
Mr Taylor said the major hurdle to be overcome was an attitude which seemed to view the prime purpose of an agricultural industry as being solely for the production of bulk export commodities.
"We then leave it to other countries to capitalise on our fine raw material and for them to manufacture the far more valuable food products," he said.
Mr Taylor said many companies in the State's domestic food production industry were aware of the export potential and were now more than eager to invest in and fight for a place in the burgeoning Asian market.
"Our own research suggests that by the Year 2000 each person in Asia is likely to be eating just as much processed food as the average Australian," he said.
"In Japan, for example, the consumption of processed food imports has been growing at a rate of 14 per cent a year.
"In Hong Kong it is growing at 12 per cent and in South Korea it has reached 18 per cent.
"Yet Australia's share of that growth is negligible. Since Asia's taste for processed food imports really began to take off about three years ago, Australia's overall exports of processed food have remained virtually static.
"Eighty per cent of our $11 billion annual exports of food are still falling within the 'bulk commodity' range - a rate virtually unchanged since 1989."
Mr Taylor said one of the problems facing Western Australian food manufacturing companies was that they were often too small to possess the necessary internal resources to tackle the export market.
"One solution would be to create a Food Industry Centre which could supply the necessary expertise and offer a range of services that would get this State into food export in a big way," he said.