Now is not the time for New Zealand to water down ambitions for a significant, comprehensive and mutually beneficial trade deal with the European Union.
If anything, with all the extra uncertainty, cost and supply chain disruption from Covid, Russia's invasion of Ukraine and tense geopolitical and security situations, the illogicality and short-term thinking of artificial trade barriers should be even more apparent to all nations.
With particular regard to agriculture, if the EU is to pay more than lip service to commitments made under the Paris Agreement on global food security and dealing with world hunger, it needs to step away from the protectionist policies that do nothing but add inefficiency and cost to putting food on people's tables.
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor and fellow members of Cabinet appear to be softening up the New Zealand public for a poor deal with the EU. The tone of some reports gives an impression that some in our delegation have already conceded and believe it's all too hard.
Federated Farmers is concerned by comments attributed to O'Connor that infer we'll likely get some wins from the agreement for some of our other products but not with meat and dairy.
While we agree with him that it's tricky landing free trade progress when you're effectively negotiating with 27 countries, perseverance is required.
The minister should need no reminder that the Government's recently-released Situation and Outlook for the Primary Industries (SOPI) Report targets a rise in food and fibre export revenue by another $4.6 billion to $56.8b by 2026. Meat and dairy revenue has been – and remains – the lion's share of that growth.
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Dairy export revenue is forecast to increase by 13 per cent to $21.6b in the current financial year, and meat and wool exports are forecast to rise 18 per cent to $12.2b. Our food and fibre sector accounted for 13.8 per cent of the nation's employment in 2019; dairy alone represents one in four jobs in some districts.
All that sounds great and might leave people thinking we don't need a trade deal with Europe that covers dairy and meat, as they are already doing well. The reality is that this growth we are achieving is happening within a very restricted marketplace. To provide more security for us as a nation we need to ensure that we have good access to a wide range of markets for all our products. Because as we have seen, things can change rapidly, and markets can disappear very quickly.
Over the term of this current government, farmers have been faced with significant proposed reforms in a multitude of areas. For many, the amount of change has felt overwhelming. The constant refrain from the Prime Minister and other ministers is that we need to do all of this to get the good trade deals; we keep hearing about the "most discerning customers" that we should be wanting to sell to. Well, it's time for the Government to deliver on its promises, and deliver those customers.
New Zealand farmers expect our negotiators to go hard on spurious trade barriers, especially when they're put up by countries that we are allied to in our outlook on security, democracy and the benefits of free trade.
- Andrew Hoggard is the president of Federated Farmers of NZ.