Trade Minister Craig Emerson says Australia could become a world superpower in clean, green food exports, but it won't happen without Chinese investment.

Dr Emerson told delegates at an agricultural conference in Canberra it was "absolutely stupid" to suggest Australia's farming sector could reach its full potential without foreign investment.

"It would be a betrayal to Australia's national interest if any political party sought to put up the shutters to foreign investment in Australian agriculture and the great opportunities that provides," he told the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Research Economics and Sciences (ABARES) conference on Tuesday.

Wheat, wool and beef would continue to be traditional cornerstones of Australia's agricultural exports.

But farmers had a "once in a generation" opportunity to become world leaders in premium products that command a high price and could "jump the hurdle" presented by the ongoing high Australian dollar.

Asia's exploding middle class - expected to tip three billion by 2030 - would pay big dollars for quality Australian products and that demand would eventually break down trade barriers and open new markets for exporters, Dr Emerson said.

"To imagine that this can be achieved without foreign investment is stupid," he said.

"We cannot have unchallenged the debate going on in Australia that there should be a stop sign put up to Chinese investment in Australian agricultural production."

Any investment needs to pass a national interest test, but for the coalition to suggest Chinese investment would simply not be welcome threatens the future of Australian farmers.

Dr Emerson said Chinese investment was the "next generation" to follow British, American and Japanese interests in Australia.

This month Australia gained permission to export lamb to India and improved market access for fruit into the Philippines.


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