Saturday, December 2, 2023

No quick fix for trade problem

Neal Wallace
Don’t expect a quick resolution to New Zealand’s appeal to the World Trade Organisation on plans split its sheep meat quota between the European Union and an independent Britain, the meat industry’s Brexit representative in London, Jeff Grant, says.
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His primary role is helping NZ secure free-trade agreements with post-Brexit Europe and Britain and he believes tangible progress will be made with the European Union in the coming year.

“We’re close to 90% done but the outstanding issues involve sensitive areas.”

But he is still battling a proposal by European leaders to split the 228,000 tonnes a year sheep meat quota in evenly between Britain and Europe.

NZ argues the initial agreement gave it uninhibited freedom to allocate the quota anywhere in Britain and Europe and has appealed against the plan to the World Trade Organisation.

But progress is stalled.

The United States has refused to appoint new judges to the WTO until it is reformed, resulting in insufficient judges.

Other WTO quota disputes involving the US, Russia, Australia and Thailand are similarly delayed in getting a hearing but Grant says despite that the WTO has been a crucial ally for small traders such as NZ.

“People don’t understand how significant the 184-country agreement to establish the WTO mechanism is to us.

“To agree to accept a ruling by an independent panel on world trade is huge.”

NZ is lining up with Japan, the US and Australia to secure free-trade agreements with the EU and Britain but it can’t start negotiating with Britain till it formally exits the union.

Grant says free-trade deals with mature markets such as Europe and Britain have become holistic, meaning agreements are increasingly dependent on countries having aligned values.

Europe requires trade agreements to be of a high standard with countries that have a sustainable environmental footprint and are not a threat to EU production.

Recent trade discussions focused on food miles but that has now shifted to environmental impact and Grant says NZ stacks up well.

“It’s a reputational thing and we are highly regarded.” 

Grant recently spoke to 700 landowners who were impressed 11 NZ primary sector organisations negotiated a partnership with the Government to reduce agricultural greenhouse emissions through a farm-level approach.

The agreement enables farmers and growers to, by 2025, calculate their emissions and offsets at the farm gate, assess options to reduce or mitigate their emissions and develop ongoing emission reduction technology.

The farming sector and NZ must address the environmental challenges to satisfy trading partners but the solutions must be science-based, he said.

“If we pollute then we have to fix it. 

“If we are seen to have cattle up to their bellies in mud it is not going to work. We will have to make changes.”

The reality is the growth of meat consumption in Europe and Britain is slowing but the benefit for NZ is that consumers want grass-fed and sustainably produced products.

“Consumers will be much more selective and NZ is on the better side of that argument.

“The thing NZ does well is we do what we say,” Grant said.

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