Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been on a roll recently with news of a potential agreement on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and working together with farmers on the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). She
also posted a video celebrating her Government's achievements on Facebook yesterday. However, with India still uncertain over signing the RCEP deal, disagreement over the methane target in the Zero Carbon Bill and farmers upset by the achievements video - is it a bit early to celebrate? Andy Thompson spoke to the Prime Minister on The Country to find out.
Thompson: Recently you were in Thailand. The RCEP agreement - the awful name of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Trade Partnership - [is it] good news for New Zealand agriculture though? How is this going to help us?
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Ardern: Well really this has been seven years in the making so it has the potential to be the largest trade agreement in the world. It takes in the likes of - potentially - India, China and others like Australia, ourselves, Japan and many other Southeast Asian countries.
So it's intended to really act as a way of simplifying trade and will for many, of course, improve access.
Now, interesting for New Zealand [is that] we already have a number of FTAs with the countries that are part of this agreement. So the benefit for us really is ... having these countries under one umbrella - it adds a level of sophistication.
India. There's still a question mark.
Thompson: Yeah I was just going to get to that. India. Yes.
Ardern: Yes. Of course we've worked very hard to try and encourage their ongoing engagement in the agreement. They haven't withdrawn - unfortunately there has been some inaccurate reporting - they haven't withdrawn completely, but however they have reserved their position to continue to negotiate around market access to them.
So there's a question mark over them at this stage and so there's a bit more work there for everyone to do.
Thompson: So with India is it just dairy? If it wasn't dairy they would be in? What's your sense of that.
Ardern: No, I think that is an oversimplification. Yes, agriculture matters to them enormously. But also, keeping in mind this is an agreement that includes China, so there's a number of sensitivities there.
We're only one part of it - but we'll continue to make the case - New Zealand, we operate at a particular end of the dairy market. We're moving from volume to value and we're not a country that can feed the entire world. So we're not going to displace India's agricultural sector in its entirety.
Thompson: No that's right. The upgrade to the FTA. Is that more symbolic? This time last year China was giving us a wee slap. Now they're talking to us again. Is it more symbolic than anything else?
Ardern: It's much more than that. We've been in negotiations for three years. It was a matter of making sure that our FTA stays up to date, particularly given we were first in signing that over 10 years ago.
It does give improved access particularly for our wood products which is certainly helpful for that sector and that was an ambition we had going in.
Of course we're already on track to see tariff reductions for our dairy sector out til 2024 and those remain intact as well.
What it means is that we will continue to have the best trade agreement with China in the world and it's important that we maintain that pole position.
Thompson: Yeah it certainly has been a big boon to New Zealand agriculture. Interesting last night the Zero Carbon Bill, I think went through its first stage. The National Party have said that they will support it although they would like to see some changes to the legislation. Including the fact that the Independent Climate Change Committee should be able to set biological methane targets not the Government. Is this something that your government would be able to live with?
Ardern: Yeah actually just for clarity on that - the bill already does have the Climate Commission set the target - all we've done is just said our expectation is that it will be within a range, because that's at the moment the best that we have with the international science available.
So the bill does set out that the Climate Commission will put a bit more specificity around that and it set some parameters for them to do that, saying of course, use the science, take into account what's happening internationally and of course what's going on with the economy.
So it essentially does that, it just has a range as a starting point.
Thompson: You must be happy though, or Minister Shaw must be very happy that it is proceeding through with the support of Parliament.
Ardern: Thus far. We'll see where it lands. It's due to finish up in Parliament this week and look, our goal is cross-party consensus, we need certainty.
We need to just get on with planning now. I'm very pleased that actually in fact with our farming leaders that's already under way. I'm meeting with them this afternoon in the wake of our announcements before Labour weekend around agricultural emissions.
We're actually just getting on with it now and we're getting on with it together.
That's come about as a lot of work from the day we came into government. I meet frequently with our farming leaders and it's been a really productive relationship.
Thompson: I just want to come back to the little viral video. It actually went really viral. You did a couple of minutes to put out a bunch of achievements from your Government over the last couple of years - 50,000 likes, 40,000 shares, two million views - that's pretty good. One comment though in it that has caught the interest of farmers was that you've just announced the clean up - "we've started the job of cleaning up our rivers, lakes through planting trees and fencing waterways" - I put it to you a little bit that farmers started this in 2003 with the Clean Streams Accord. I've seen lots of comments from farmers regarding the statement and quite frankly they're a little bit angry that it seems like your team have belittled their efforts over the past 14 years.
To mark two years in Government, I was issued a wee challenge...Posted by Jacinda Ardern on Friday, 1 November 2019
Ardern: No, no, no, no. Not at all. I mean of course I was speaking to what we can specifically say we have done in the last two years and of course that is not to diminish what has been done much more broadly than that.
I made that point when we launched the funding available up in Kaipara to do remedial work. That was on top of what had already been occurring.
So I think, you know, if you're doing anything longer than two minutes you would of course put in the disclaimer of the work that's already under way but really it was talking about the contribution that we were starting to make as opposed to the work that has been going on for some time which I am always quick to acknowledge when I am out and about.
Thompson: Well it's nice to clarify that on The Country.