Australia considers letting in Kiwi spuds

By Ben Chapman-Smith

New Zealand has not been able to to send fresh potatoes to Australia since 1988. Photo / Ross Setford.
New Zealand has not been able to to send fresh potatoes to Australia since 1988. Photo / Ross Setford.

New Zealand potato growers are hoping Australia will lift a 24-year block on Kiwi potatoes for processing by the end of this year.

Australia's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) was currently in the process of reviewing import conditions for New Zealand potatoes.

Most of New Zealand's potatoes were currently processed here before being exported but the industry had been pushing since 2006 for access to export spuds to be processed in Australia.

Kiwi growers did not want to flood the Australian market but just wanted the opportunity to meet an Australian shortfall if the need arose, said Potatoes New Zealand business manager Ron Gall.

"If they had a bad year I'd have thought this would be a good move for them. It's no different from having access to other markets we export to.

"You can't play in the game if you don't have a ticket."

Australia closed the door to Kiwi growers in 1988 but DAFF recently produced a draft review proposing that potatoes from New Zealand be permitted entry subject to a number of strict quarantine conditions.

Of chief concern to DAFF scientists and the local industry was the potential for 'zebra chip' disease to enter the country.

'Zebra chip' is spread by a small insect - the tomato potato psyllid - which lived and fed on leaves and stems, not on the actual potato.

The name came from the black lines which appeared on potato chips exposed to the disease.

Gall said New Zealand was getting on top of 'zebra chip' and the risk of it entering Australia via our potatoes was "absolutely minimal".

But he understood why the local industry would try to limit risk and prevent competition.

"I understand that and if the shoe was on the other foot I'm sure we do the same thing."

DAFF proposed a zero tolerance for trash (leaves), as it does with apples from New Zealand, and said this would shut the pathway for the psyllid to enter Australia.

It said a second safety net existed because the only New Zealand potato available to Australian consumers would be processed into fries or crisps.

New Zealand's commercial potato industry was worth about $400m.

Total potato exports were worth nearly $100 million in 2010 and frozen potato products accounted for 83 per cent of that export value.

Fiji was our biggest potato trade partner, taking between 14000 and 16000 tonnes a year.

Potatoes New Zealand saw gaining access to new markets as an important component of a drive to be a $1 billion dollar industry by 2020.

Its proposed quarantine conditions included that the potatoes must be washed and/or brushed to remove soil and free from leaf matter, and be transported under quarantine seal to a Quarantine Approved Premises for processing.

DAFF was considering submissions on the draft review of import conditions until September 3.

Submissions will be considered prior to the final conditions being put in place later this year.

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