The respect for our country means a good hearing at the WFO meeting, writes Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills
As I write this I am about to pack my bags for Buenos Aires, Argentina, for my last World Farmers Organisation (WFO) meeting representing New Zealand farmers.
This group of some 65 countries meets once a year to debate issues affecting farmers across the globe.
The WFO does similar work to Federated Farmers but at an international level. Last year we met in Japan and our particular success was agreement to a progressive trade policy, not as comprehensive as a New Zealand policy would look like, but one that pushed the protective Europeans and Japanese beyond their usual highly protective positions.
How did this happen? It happened in large part due to the respected position and influence of New Zealand on the world stage. I have been privileged in this role to represent New Zealand on a number of occasions and it never ceases to amaze me the high esteem we Kiwis are held in. I make a habit of talking to taxi drivers; the best way I find to get the real pulse of a country.
"I am from New Zealand, have you been to our country?" I ask.
The responses are remarkably similar, I always get a comment about the All Blacks and our beautiful scenery, the English also talk about our lamb, the French our wine.
At these international events other farming leaders are fascinated by our farming success. How do we do it? - the size of our farms, the number of sheep and cattle we run, and all without government support. I have often been asked how this came to be so I tell the story about 1984, how farmers asked the government of the day to remove all state support and yes, Roger Douglas obliged in very short order! As many will remember this was a tough time. Overseas audiences are astounded that we did this to ourselves but are envious about how we have grown and succeeded.
We are greatly respected for what we have achieved and this makes it an honour to be a Kiwi at these events, it allows New Zealand to punch well above its size.
The rapid growth of our China trade has added to this reputation. That is a quadrupling of our trade in the past six years, 25 per cent up in just the last year and now our Prime Minister and his Chinese counterpart are talking about $30 billion of two-way trade by 2020.
We have a great story to tell about the benefits of free trade and I will be continuing to tell this story in Argentina. Tariffs and trade restrictions still cost this country over $1 billion every year. Countries are listening to our story because they want some of our success. As trade restrictions gradually reduce, New Zealand farmers will prosper and so too will those we trade with.