While Australia dairy exports have stagnated at $3 billion or less for the past 17 years, imports have surged from $337 million in 2000 to almost $1.67 billion last year.
Most of the growth has occurred in the past four years, with Dairy Australia figures showing imports have doubled since 2012, when they were sitting at just $861 million.
The dramatic rise in imports has sparked increasing concerns among Australian dairy farmers that their industry is struggling to remain competitive in international markets.
“The dairy industry, as we know it, is at a crossroads,” Finley dairy farmer Laurie Flanagan said. “I think these figures are quite amazing.”
Nullawarre dairy farmer Jason Burleigh said many farmers would be “blown away” by the import figures. “Why are we importing all this?” he said.
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Dairy Australia analysis shows US dairy products made up 13 per cent of imports, by value, last year, helped along by the 2005 Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement.
Even the heavily subsidised European Union has managed to muscle into the Australian market, accounting for 31 per cent of imports last year.
And, unsurprisingly, global dairy giant New Zealand poured more than $800 million of dairy products into Australia’s supermarkets, food service industry and fast food outlets.
Cheese imports hit $627 million last year, infant powder $370 million, mixtures $146 million and butter products $144 million, with the rest comprising milk and whey powders, ice cream, condensed milk, lactose and casein.