As reported in last week’s Farmers Weekly, NZ’s top trade negotiator Vangelis Vitalis has warned sheep and beef farmers that their environmental and animal welfare record will come under close scrutiny, as countries search for ways to protect their own food producers who have taken a hit to demand for their products as a result of coronavirus.
Vitalis acknowledged that environmental regulations will come at a cost to NZ farmers, but says it could pay off in terms of providing improved market access under future free trade deals by helping to quell opposition to them in those countries involved.
Feds president Andrew Hoggard agrees with Vitalis that NZ both needs and has a good environmental record that can be presented internationally.
However, he says, if particular environmental or animal welfare standards are included in future free trade deals, those standards need to be met by farmers in all those countries involved.
So, if there are targets for NZ farmers to meet in future free trade agreements with the EU or the UK, then farmers there should have to meet the same standards.
“We shouldn’t be expected to do more than the farmers from the countries we sign trade deals with are (doing),” he said.
“If we have to achieve certain outcomes, then we would expect farmers from those other countries to do the same.”
Hoggard says NZ farmers are already the most efficient in the world when it comes to the level of greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of product produced and are operating at a higher level than anyone else in terms of meeting climate change responsibilities.
“We’re well ahead of the game. We’re already number one and need that to continue,” he said.
He says some of the current regulations being imposed on NZ farmers look to be more about domestic issues rather than overseas, trade-related issues and does not believe claims that if NZ farmers are forced to meet stringent environmental regulations then, as a reward, suddenly markets will open up where farmers here will receive double the prices they were paid earlier.
He says changing recently introduced rules will not have a big impact on future trade deals.
“The idea that if we get rid of the freshwater regulations, then suddenly we won’t have access, that’s absolute rubbish,” he said.
No matter who wins the upcoming general election, Hoggard expects there will be changes to the freshwater legislation because as it stands, he says the rules included in it are in conflict with their intent, that the way the regulations are written means they are not fit for purpose and will crush any chance of an economic recovery involving agriculture.
The National Party says it will repeal or review nine of the freshwater regulations introduced this year, while it also wants to change the Zero Carbon Act, including a review of the methane target included in it.
Its agriculture policy states that the party wants to pursue an active free trade agenda to open up new markets for NZ’s food and fibre products.
Trade spokesperson Todd Muller says he is aware of the potential for protectionism Vitalis referred to, but NZ farmers have a very good story to tell about environmental sustainability and animal welfare.
He says the Government has sought to frame freshwater in a farming context as far worse than it actually is.
Although work to improve freshwater quality should and will continue to evolve, rather than adopting a defensive attitude towards progress that has already been made NZ should acknowledge its successes and make sure that the rest of the world knows about them.
Hoggard says Labour has already made some changes to the freshwater regulations and has signalled more changes are possible.
If Labour is returned to power and those changes do not eventuate, he is not ruling out court action to achieve its goals.
He says Federated Farmers recognises that water quality and climate change are important issues that need to be addressed, but in their current form the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and freshwater regulations are not fit for purpose, that they need to be based on science and outcomes and they are not.