Australia's pineapple industry could be crippled and almost half of Queensland's crops wiped out by exotic diseases, the state's Agriculture Department has warned.
These fears are not confined to the pineapple industry: Tasmania's farmers have made similar warnings about that state's lucrative potato trade and Australian ginger growers have accused the federal Agriculture Department of using poor scientific testing of the risks involved with importing exotic produce.
Farming communities continue to be the sacrificial free-trade lamb.
The federal Agriculture Department has given preliminary approval to trade agreements with Malaysia and Fiji to import pineapples and ginger to Australia and it is in the process of approving the importation of potatoes from New Zealand.
Industry groups warn the move risks crippling produce industries worth billions of dollars that employ thousands of Australians.
The Queensland Agriculture Department has warned that 40 per cent of the state's pineapple crops could be lost to diseases such as bacterial heart rot and fruit collapse.
''In Malaysia, both diseases are endemic, with field crop losses of up to 40 per cent recorded,'' its submission to a parliamentary inquiry states, adding that the diseases also caused ''significant'' crop losses in Hawaii.
''Australia has very similar climatic conditions and pineapple varieties to both Hawaii and Malaysia. Therefore, the impact of this disease in Australia could reasonably be expected to approximate the field losses [up to 40 per cent] reported from Malaysia.''
Queensland MP Bob Katter described as ''an outrage'' the proposal to import pineapples from Malaysia, pointing out that authorities were not bound to consider the environmental, social and economic impacts when approving crop importations.
''As a result, regional and farming communities continue to be the sacrificial free-trade lamb,'' Mr Katter said.
In a statement, the federal Agriculture Department said the decision to import produce was a commercial matter and no import permits had yet been issued for Malaysian pineapples, Fijian ginger or New Zealand's potatoes.
But the department had approved the importation of pineapples from Malaysia and ginger from Fiji, subject to conditions. It has not completed reviewing the import conditions necessary to satisfy itself that New Zealand potatoes will be safe.
The Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries warned importing potatoes to the island state could threaten countless industries.
''Our favourable biosecurity status is integral to, and at the heart of, the Tasmanian brand and hence underpins our ability to maintain and position ourselves as a unique source of a broad range of quality, natural produce and products for discerning national and international markets,'' the department said.
''Accordingly, a biosecurity threat to any single industry, such as the potato industry, is also a threat to how the whole Tasmanian brand is maintained, perceived and valued in the market.''
Among the exotic diseases present in New Zealand but not in Tasmania were potato cyst nematode, tomato/potato psyllid, Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum and bacterial wilt, it said.
A submission from Woolworths said there was little need to import potatoes from New Zealand, as 100 per cent of the potatoes they sold were sourced in Australia.
A parliamentary committee into the proposed imports was unable to finish its inquiry before the election and its inquiry is now on hold.
The federal Agriculture Department will demand Malaysia and Fiji develop ''work plans'' to manage potential risks before importers from those countries can apply for import permits.
Fiji has completed one, which covers registering production sites and treatment practices including fumigation, but Malaysia is yet to do so.