This week, a free trade agreement (FTA)&nbsp;Parliamentary Inquiry came to Griffith City Council Chambers with the intention to speak to small and medium business owners within the region to learn more about their stories; how free trade affects them, how their businesses run, background on their business. Chair of the Inquiry Ted O’Brien MP&nbsp;said the Inquiry was all about hearing from people, as opposed to providing ‘one-size-fits-all’ answers –&nbsp;he said he was also keen to find out how Griffith businesses and industries have&nbsp;changed over the years. The Inquiry also&nbsp;aimed to “examine opportunities and challenges facing small and medium Australian export-oriented businesses that seek to leverage free trade agreements for the export of goods and services.” In particular, the Inquiry aimed to overview the products and services negotiated in FTAs; accessibility of FTAs; outcomes in attempting to leverage FTAs; effectiveness of support structures/networks in helping leverage FTAs; and so on. RELATED: Attendees to the event and Committee members included: Bill Calabria (Calabria Family Wines), Vito Mancini (Redbelly Citrus), Paul Pearsall (Grain Link), Leon Skaliotis (Flavourtech), John Collins (Agriculture Tours Riverina), Matt Ryan (Murray Cod), Leanne Austin (Economic Development Officer GCC), Nicola James (Department of Industry), Mayor John Dal Broi, Federal MP for Farrer Sussan Ley, Andrew Dawson (Inquiry Secretary),&nbsp;Graham Perett MP (Deputy Chair),&nbsp;and Ted O’Brien MP (Chair). Representatives and owners of&nbsp;businesses were encouraged to discuss their business,&nbsp;how they trade and&nbsp;whether they engage in leveraging FTAs as much as can be. So far, the Inquiry Committee has&nbsp;received positive reception from their hearings – across Queensland, Melbourne, Hume, Temora, Newcastle&nbsp;– and has also noticed common themes presented. “The big thing is, we’re doing this Inquiry differently from the usual Inquiry, in a few ways: because we’re looking at small and medium businesses, we’re not relying on written submissions –&nbsp;usually you write a big submission and from those submissions we decide who to speak to,” Mr O’Brien said. He said small and medium businesses often don’t have the time and resources to write up submissions. “So, we’re doing it like we are today;&nbsp;turning up and having an open discussion works really well,” he said. “We’re also getting out there –&nbsp;which is why we’re here –&nbsp;we’re going to regional areas that are really focused on exports. “What we don’t know is whether or not our small and medium businesses are getting the most from those FTAs, and so, what we’re trying to do through these sessions is come up with a set of recommendations at the end of the day that will go to government to recommend what needs to change so that we can ensure small and medium businesses have more opportunity to leverage FTAs.” Speaking with Bill Calabria of Calabria Family Wines before the event, he said he looked to explain to some Committee members&nbsp;of the Inquiry hearing the concerns with water in the region, particularly as a wine grower, and the importance of trade for his business. Mr Calabria said it is “very important to keep tabs on what is happening so we can have a competitive advantage along the lines of being able to export our product –&nbsp;we haven’t got the population in Australia to consume all the wine we have,&nbsp;so we really depend heavily on export,” Mr Calabria said. “And I think it’s very important to work with these people to let them know what our situation is and what they can do for us down the track.” He said India could potentially be a great market to export to. At the event, each attendee discussed their business;&nbsp;prospects, difficulties. Marketing Director of Flavourtech Leon Skaliotis explained&nbsp;his business has exported to nearly 20 countries within the last eight months, including traditional markets such as the United States and Europe, as well as venturing into other countries like Kenya, Ukraine, Colombia, New Zealand, France, and Germany. Mr Skaliotis said as his business is growing, or, “at capacity”,&nbsp;he will “need more people with specialised skills” such as process engineers, and mechanical engineers. However, as he says, “we can only get technical people from overseas; people from Melbourne and Sydney don't want to move to a town like Griffith.” “That's where we're finding the most difficulty.” “We can export more but we can’t get the right people out here fast enough to train them.” Sussan Ley MP for Farrer was curious to learn more about Murray Cod’s export protocols to China which currently require the business to provide live products. Mr Ryan said there is a “list of&nbsp;seafood products that are approved for importing to China”. “Murray Cod has been put on the list as ‘live only’,” Mr Ryan said. Ms Ley expressed concern that perhaps the protocols or exporting process could be reviewed or improved to help with production. Mayor John Dal Broi expressed his concern about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and its affect on farmers in the region. “The only cloud on the horizon is water,” Cr Dal Broi said. He said while the community has the capacity to produce product, “government should get out of the way of business.” Mr Calabria told the Inquiry the wine industry is very important to the region and that&nbsp;his business relies heavily on export&nbsp;–&nbsp;“free trade has assisted us in growing”, with 65% of product exported overseas. One of Mr Calabria’s concerns lies with trade with the United Kingdom, where the fallout from Brexit is ongoing. “Where are we at with the UK as far as free trade is concerned?” Mr Calabria asked. “I think that's something that's quite important.” The Inquiry explained the Australian Government is keen for an FTA with the UK, but is impossible until the terms of Brexit are set with the EU. “The problem with have as a wine industry is where we’re situated –&nbsp;we’re&nbsp;so far away from the rest of the word,&nbsp;and I think everyone in export has that issue, but have strong competition from Chile and other countries where wages are really low.” He explained manufacturing&nbsp;and production is&nbsp;a lot more expensive in Australia. “We’d just like to continue that growth and give confidence for the growers and industry here in Griffith. “We have an issue with Australia accepting the Riverina –&nbsp;it's our own fault with not knowing how to market&nbsp;properly. “We need to spread our wings as far as possible.” Mr O’Brien said Mr Calabria has a “wonderful family story to tell”, and it is those families who are the “pioneers” of regional areas. “They play a leadership role that goes far beyond their brand and their company,” Mr O’Brien said The Inquiry was recorded by Hansard and will be made available on their site.