Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Beef up border biosecurity

Thomas Chin on lessons we need to take on board about preventing biosecurity incursions into New Zealand. There’s a popular TV show called Border Patrol. Paraphrased, its tagline goes: “Customs and MPI protect New Zealand’s border – they are NZ’s border patrol.” These may be comforting words, but the recent Auditor-General’s report identified several deficient areas at our biosecurity frontline. The public watchdog says NZ is at risk of a major biosecurity incursion and much improvement is needed on the part of some agencies. Clearly there are lessons to be taken on board.

NZ is a world leader in producing high-quality seed which enjoys strong demand overseas, and is often the highest priced. We are also highly regarded and trusted. At home, the seed industry underpins our vital farming economy. The seed industry has always been an advocate of a strong border to help minimise potentially trade damaging repercussions.

Budget 2013 was positive with new people and resources added to the frontline of the biosecurity system.

To digress, it was also positive for agribusiness, with funding to help regional irrigation projects, construction of a “world-class” agricultural research and education facility at Lincoln University, and a package to help businesses invest more in research and development.

The Government missed the opportunity to accelerate depreciation on plant and equipment and require regional councils to put up plans that are workable and not a barrier to the primary sector’s goal to boost production and productivity.

Back to the border. Hundreds of thousands of travellers arrive in NZ every year. Every year we also increase our imports from a wide and diverse range of countries, many of which have more relaxed biosecurity regulations which expose our primary industries to risk. It’s no wonder then, that border security is something the seed industry watches anxiously.

Border and inspection agencies can’t rest on their laurels and while we think that our policy settings are about right, maximum penalties should be applied to those individuals who hold contempt for our biosecurity laws. This is not a big ask. Other countries are tough on offenders and so should we be.

As part of the arable sector, the seed industry is party to a memorandum of understanding to the Government-Industry Agreement (GIA). This is basically a partnership to boost our readiness and response to potential post-border biosecurity risks or threats.

The NZ Grain and Seed Trade Association is working on this in tandem with other arable sector members including wheat and grain growers, flour millers, feed manufacturers, plant breeders and researchers. We are at the stage of working up the GIA deed and negotiating industry operational agreements.

Beyond this, relevant government agencies will need to make sure their focus remains on improving services – this starts with more resources for a more visible and vigilant front line and a priority to reduce red tape.

Finally, no reminders are needed that NZ’s agricultural sector and its future both at home and in terms of getting our products to market is highly dependent on, and in the hands of, our frontline biosecurity services. Any beefing up of biosecurity at the border to protect us from biosecurity threats is positive and gets a cheer from every primary sector. 

  • Thomas Chin is general manager of the NZ Grain and Seed Trade Association. 
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