Primary sector needs story to sell globally

By Fiona Rotherham

Mike Petersen, New Zealand's special agricultural trade envoy, said he has been "banging on" about this idea for some years without getting much traction. Photo / NZME
Mike Petersen, New Zealand's special agricultural trade envoy, said he has been "banging on" about this idea for some years without getting much traction. Photo / NZME

New Zealand needs to develop a new primary sector story to help sell its products to the world, says Mike Petersen, New Zealand's special agricultural trade envoy.

Speaking at today's Dairy NZ Farmer Forum at Mystery Creek, Petersen said he has been "banging on" about this idea for some years without getting much traction.

"We need a coherent New Zealand story and we need it desperately to take out into the world," he said. "We are behind the game at pulling this together to make the most of our opportunities."

Petersen, who attends most of the country's trade negotiations to ensure the primary sector perspective is included, said Ireland's 'Origin Green' story was "masterful" and one New Zealand should be looking to copy, given more than 90 per cent of what the primary sector produces locally is sold offshore.

The question in New Zealand is who is going to take the leadership role in bringing the sector together to develop the NZ Inc story, he said. In Ireland, it was led by the Food Board with backing from industry.

"I'd not want to see one devised for us by the government. We've had 100% Pure and struggled to guarantee that and now NZTE has the New Zealand Story which I think is a silly name. NZTE, MPI and the primary sector need to come together to promote a story of integrity and trust in our export systems and pull together what we are already doing today."

Currently all the pieces such as environmental credentials and traceability were in different places and showcased in different ways rather than as one coherent picture, he said.

Lewis Road Creamery founder Peter Cullinane said the sector should be doing something collectively. Tourism New Zealand already spends $80 million a year marketing the country to international visitors and it could combine that with pitching how fabulous our agricultural products are, he said.

"There's an opportunity to do something clever and no other country is doing that. We could be leaders in thought leadership," he said.

But a warning on a collective primary sector story was sounded by Paul McGilvary, Tatua Cooperative Dairy chief executive officer. He said NZTE was doing a good job of building the New Zealand story and the dairy industry needed to get behind it more than it does.

"If you start linking all the industries in New Zealand together that does create some risks and you have to manage that. It's good to hold hands and say we're all New Zealanders in the world together but if we have one company that fails, we all fail," he said.

"We have to build a story that doesn't create something we can't live up to and incorporates that risk," McGilvary said.

On trade talks, Petersen said he was still confident the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement would get US support despite the rhetoric recently from some US politicians and the presidential candidates. He said whether it gets sign off during the "lame duck session" as President Barack Obama leaves office or by the incoming president, TPP is likely to be supported by the US because the alternative is it missing out on the benefits of trading with 12 nations who collectively account for 40 per cent of the world's economy.

He said it was disappointing for the dairy industry that a number of countries such as the US and Canada weren't on the same page as New Zealand and others in opening up more access to agricultural products within the 12 and that "they didn't understand it would be good for their farmers".

While New Zealand didn't get what it had hoped for on agricultural access, Petersen said he thinks the outcome of TPP is likely to be better than what the direct dairy benefits suggest because sealing the deal will integrate further trade opportunities and value chains between the 12 countries.

He said while New Zealand accounted for only 3 per cent of the world's dairy production, it was often perceived to be a bigger player than it is because it accounts for 30 per cent of the milk traded around the world.

Petersen said updating the China free trade agreement signed in 2008 was also important, especially because it imported 14 per cent more dairy in the past year but most of it came from countries other than New Zealand.

That's partly because 124 countries count China as their biggest market and are beating a path to their door daily but also because China doesn't want to be too dependent on any one country for any of its food sources and is looking to produce more of its own, he said.

- BusinessDesk

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