Te Puke grower Ron Bailey fears the New Zealand avocado industry would take a financial hit if Mexico and Chile got market access to Australasia.
While success by Latin American export nations to enter New Zealand or Australia are far from guaranteed, he believes opening borders to Mexican fruit could not only expose New Zealand to destructive avocado tree viruses, but also reduce the value of New Zealand-grown fruit sold in Australia at the tail-end of the season.
"It's likely that if Mexico gets access to Australia, they will target the post-Christmas period when there is a smaller volume of Australian Hass avocados available," says Ron.
"The phytosanitary issues that could arise out of Mexico getting access to New Zealand are pretty serious. They have sun blotch virus there and it seriously sickens and weakens their trees."
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"This is when we're also pushing product into Australia because it's during this period that their domestic supply is limited. As growers, our fruit generates its highest values after Christmas, but Mexico moving in would have a significant impact on our own grower returns."
Earlier this year, Australian government officials confirmed they were starting a risk assessment for importing fresh avocados from Chile — the start of a process that could lead to Chile gaining market access. Currently, only avocados from New Zealand can be imported into Australia.
The Association of Producers and Packers Exporters of Avocado in Mexico (APEAM) also signalled their interest in exporting to Australia and New Zealand last month. This stems from new free trade opportunities for Mexico emerging out of the updated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The free trade agreement involves 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including New Zealand, Australia and Mexico. Its signing on March 8 established the largest free trade area in the world.
Mr Bailey, an AVOCO Grower Relations Committee member and grower on Rangiuru Rd, says the New Zealand avocado industry had been going from strength to strength in recent years. But he warns that production growth and market development could be abruptly halted if avocado viruses endemic to Mexico arrived in the country.
"The phytosanitary issues that could arise out of Mexico getting access to New Zealand are pretty serious. They have sun blotch virus there and it seriously sickens and weakens their trees.
"If sun blotch virus infected our trees and fruit, it wouldn't just affect our production volumes — it would seriously jeopardise our access to existing markets."
The kiwifruit industry's battle with Psa and challenges facing the dairy industry over Mycoplasma Bovis, means Ron has lost confidence in New Zealand's ability to stop infectious bacteria and viruses at the border.
"Viruses like sun blotch need to be kept out of the country but sadly, we don't have a good track record with some of our biosecurity systems," he says.
"We have got the volume of fruit to satisfy the Australian market currently, but that could change if ever there were biosecurity breaches. The New Zealand industry needs to protect its disease-free status, so we can continue to have export supply for market options."
AVOCO's marketing and communications manager, Steve Trickett, says he was confident Australia would continue to reward New Zealand growers if conditions changed. But interest from Chilean and Mexican exporters in Australia's market especially, was a reminder about the industry's need to investigate further options in Asia, under the AVANZA brand.
In 2018-19, AVOCO is likely to send about 80 per cent of its volumes to Australia and 20 per cent to Asia. This will ensure long-term retail customers in Australia will be supported while enabling market growth in emerging Asian markets, including China.