Three of Asia's leading agribusinesses have joined iron ore magnate Andrew Forrest in what he described Thursday as an "unprecedented" 100-year partnership to position Australia as China's food bowl.
Forrest said China's New Hope Group and COFCO Corp., and Singapore-listed Wilmar International, had joined the Australia-Sino 100-Year Agricultural and Food Safety Partnership, known as ASA 100.
The partnership aims to make Australia China's "most reliable" supplier of agricultural products over the next century, said billionaire Forrest.
It kicked off in Sydney Thursday with a meeting between Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and other Australian food industry leaders.
"This is an all-of-country response," Forrest, the founder of Fortescue Metals Group who has more recently turned his attention to agribusiness, told The Australian newspaper.
"I would like Australia to be seen as China's friendliest, largest, most reliable, highest quality, most competitive, most efficient food and agricultural products supplier."
The ASA 100 will ultimately comprise dozens of members, largely from China and Australia, who will meet annually, including food producers, distributors and politicians.
The tycoon said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told him during a Beijing meeting this year, when he raised the idea of the partnership, that his chief concern was ensuring safe food supply for his country of more than 1.3 billion people.
Forrest said Australia's agriculture industry could become a mainstay of the national economy if efficiencies were boosted.
"If we market ourselves as Australia to all of China, then that lifts our entire country in the eyes of China and we become in the Chinese psychology the supplier of choice whenever you think beef, wool, cotton or natural products," he said.
China is Australia's largest trading partner and the country's economic growth has in part been fuelled by Chinese demand for resources such as iron ore and coal.
But despite Australia being one of the world's biggest exporters of soft commodities such as meat and dairy, its agricultural sector makes up only about 2.0 percent of the economy.
This is far lower than the 10 percent from the mining industry, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences figures show.