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Federal Member for Calare, Andrew Gee has hailed the new Australia-China access agreement for cherries, peaches, plums and apricots as a game changer for the region’s orchardists with the local cherry industry set for particularly strong growth.

“I said in my inaugural speech that one of my top priorities was improving export market access for local fruit growers and we have now achieved this,” Mr Gee said.

“This new agreement is going to make it much easier and faster to get our cherries and other stone fruit into mainland China. It’s the big market we prioritised.

“The number of local orchards has been declining here in recent years and the local growers and I have been working very hard to change that,” Mr Gee said.

“For years we’ve been watching the Tasmanian cherry industry go ahead in leaps and bounds because they are free of fruit fly and can sell anywhere, but this new protocol allows our orchardists to compete on a more level playing field.

“I’m now expecting a significant expansion of the local cherry industry. I think for the first time, young orchardists will now be seeing a future on the land locally. I also think you’re going to see more orchardists planting fruit trees now, which will be an amazing achievement, especially considering many have pulled trees out in recent years,” Mr Gee said.

“Make no mistake, this breakthrough has been driven by our area.

“The local orchardists and I made it our point of not only lobbying Barnaby Joyce but we also insisted on meeting the Australian Government officers who actually sit down at the table with their foreign counterparts and do the negotiations. I think this was the difference. They could see firsthand how passionate our local growers were and the importance of this issue to them. I think it put a real human dimension to the argument, and to their credit, they listened to us. Cherries finally became a priority for negotiators after years of delays and frustration.

“At one point we were all planning to go over to China to keep pushing for it but the speed at which this has been made possible has been very gratifying,” Mr Gee said.

Exports of cherries, citrus and table grapes to China were worth over $230 million in 2016-17. The improvements in the protocols for these products will allow Australian producers and exporters to export more fruit to China in the upcoming season.