CEO Direct Channel podcast #3

Well the past few weeks have been quite a challenge for the export focused parts of our industry – where our international trade has been faced with changing import requirements.  Clearly as an industry we have some challenges ahead –  and I’ll talk about these in a few moments after I’ve first touched on a few housekeeping matters.

But before we get going I’d just like to mention that you’ll hopefully be getting something in the mail soon – we’ve done an experimental re-introduction of the ProWest magazine – after what I understand is an eleven year break.  It should arrive by post around about mid-November. Mind you, can I say not all postal addresses are currently on our records – so we can only do what we can do – and any people who miss out can send in their contact details for next time, although you will still be able to access an online version in the interim.

Your feedback about ProWest is openly welcomed, whether you want to see future editions and if so, what you would like to see in them.

Meanwhile there’s an important event coming up – our WAFIC AGM will be held on Friday 27th November at 12.30pm at the Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle – and all members are encouraged to attend.

There have also been a number of AGMs and Annual Management Meetings of various sector groups held over recent times and I’ve been fortunate to have attended most of them. In addition, our tireless Chairman Murray Criddle, as usual, has been doing the hard yards and travelled from one end of the coast to another to meet and discuss things with our fishing people and wade right in to the heart of our fishing communities.  Certainly we have both learnt a lot and have been working hard to better identify the issues and diagnose appropriate plans of action.  We are genuinely focused on achieving results.

WAFIC recently held a two-day Board meeting to flesh out a number of complex matters which impact upon the fishing industry – and the entire Board then met with the Minister at the end of those two days.

In addition, Chairman Murray and myself have since met with the Minister again – this week – to ensure we are getting our messages through – and more importantly, are getting some traction.

One of the things we discussed with him is the comprehensive functional review we are currently undertaking of WAFICs operations to be more effective and cost-efficient and to ensure that our industry can better present itself as being closely united.  To this end, I am looking at an operating model which ensures that our various sector groups are more closely engaged in the central WAFIC functions, and we can provide them with a better demonstrated range of support services.

However, importantly, the sectors will still retain their independence – that doesn’t need to change.  I’m sure you’ll agree there can be a whole lot of benefit from removing unnecessary duplication and inefficiencies, to ensure that the fishing people get the service and support they really deserve – not only from their sectors, but also from their peak industry group.

Now in relation to the overseas trade issues that I mentioned we have been facing, it’s important that we see these in the right perspective.  Doing business overseas certainly isn’t easy, we’re dealing with foreign languages and foreign laws and regulations which can (and do) change at any time.

Every country has unique challenges – and within countries there can be many significant jurisdictional differences – so believe me, no ports of call are ever straightforward or easy.

In the case of live rock lobster exports, they have been very successfully managed for a number of years – the products are highly sought after in the marketplace and the mutual relationships are genuinely strong.

What we have now seen is the introduction – at reasonably short notice – of new administrative arrangements, particularly in relation to food safety testing.

The explicit details of these new arrangements are not yet fully understood, and ongoing efforts are being made to get some greater clarity.

However it’s important, that whether or not the arrangements are easily workable or convenient for us, we’ve got no choice but to recognise the sovereign right of importing countries to set their own rules – just as Australia places quite high and onerous burdens on food products which come into our country.

We have a long and trusted relationship with our trade partners and it’s really important that the media and politicians now take a gentle step back to provide some clear air for things to get sorted out.

We do know that the media has been ringing up some individual fishermen and asking them for a comment.  Effectively all they want is for you to utter the words ‘import ban’ or ‘trade war’ and they’ll be super happy as they will then have some juice to play with – to inflate and exaggerate and embellish the situation for another day or two.

So although it might be tempting to say a word or two – please – for the sake of our industry – please just say to them that you’re sorry and you can’t say anything.

You may have noticed that WAFIC has not uttered a single word in the media.

It’s not because we aren’t taking the matter seriously – completely the contrary.

It’s because the sooner the media coverage dies down then the sooner we as an industry have the chance to quietly get everything fully sorted and back to normality.

Before I go, I’d like to give a quick shout out to Western Rock Lobster Chair Terry Lissiman, Matt Taylor and his team – as well as the GFC of course  – for the considerable time and effort they have put in over the past week or two to ensure that the interests of WA’s rock lobster industry are best protected.  It’s been a huge commitment.

Finally, in my introductory speeches and writings over the past month or two, I’ve often said that to best endure the many headwinds our industry faces, that we need to be working closely and cooperatively – together, as a unified industry.  I’ve often mentioned the risks of interrupted trade in a rapidly swirling world of geopolitics where market conditions can so easily change at a moment’s notice.

Who knows what is about to happen in the US, who knows the knock-on impact it will make on the key trading relationships and alliances.  There may well be challenges, there may well be opportunities.

So when you’re up there in the wheelhouse, it’s most important to be looking at the horizon and making smart strategic planning decisions rather than potentially being distracted by what’s happening in the immediate waters around us.

As an industry we also need to do this.  We need to always be thinking ahead and positioning ourselves for the inevitable challenges we are going to face – both overseas and locally.

And here in WA, to secure the level of community and political support that we need right now – and will so desperately need in the future – please remember in everything we do, during every day – on the water, around about town, or at the local pub – that we are always seen as an amazing ambassador for our industry.

If everybody does this, we can gold-plate our social licence – which in turn is the best insurance possible to protect your future resource access and security – and therefore the health of your business and most importantly your family.

You can download the audio podcast here.