Appellation protection alongside tariff removal is an added bonus for the honey sector in the recently announced European Union-New Zealand free trade agreement.
The agreement includes not only the removal of a 17.3% tariff on NZ-sourced honey, it also offers protection on the definition of the term “mānuka”, via separate tariff conditions that recognise the brand’s value as taonga exclusively sourced from NZ.
NZ honey sales to the EU have surged dramatically in recent years, driven in particular by growth in German demand for mānuka. Total EU sales were $60 million last year, or 12% of the $500m export market.
The Mānuka Charitable Trust, guardian organisation of the mānuka taonga, has welcomed the agreement’s recognition of mānuka’s indigenous definition and the recognition of the name’s distinctive NZ link.
The FTA includes a Māori Trade and Economic Co-operation chapter to help advance iwi economic aspirations and wellbeing.
Trustee Paul Morgan said the FTA was particularly special because of the recognition it has given to native values and sourcing, something he had not seen in over 30 years of trade and product development.
Morgan said beyond the deal with the EU, the goal remained to protect the term “mānuka honey” internationally so it can be used only on products coming from NZ.
In February this year NZ lodged an appeal with the UK Intellectual Property Office against the office’s decision not to grant NZ exclusive protection and rights to the use of “mānuka” for honey sold in that country.
Australian honey producers have been mounting a concerted effort to prevent the trust gaining exclusive access to the term, claiming they have been producing mānuka honey for many years.
Morgan said he believed the initiative to specify mānuka in the EU FTA would do no harm to the trust’s efforts to win its appeal in the UK.
A decision on the appeal is expected later this year.
“It has been a tough few years with the legal process, which has proven very expensive, and the FTA with the EU is certainly a good pick-me-up for the industry right now,” Morgan said.
The NZ-EU FTA will see tariffs on mānuka honey removed as soon as the deal is ratified, with all other honeys getting tariff-free status three years later.
Apiculture NZ chief executive Karin Kos said the removal of the tariffs was welcome, and alongside the UK FTA being ratified represents a significant value gain for the sector.
NZ exports about $45m of honey a year to the UK and the removal of that country’s 16% tariff, added to the EU tariff removal, will result in additional returns to honey producers of about $17m a year.
The UK represents NZ’s largest bulk importer of honey in drums. Germany is forecast to lead future retail growth, with its market having lifted 33% in only one year to 2021.
Jane Lorimer, a member of the NZ Beekeeping executive council, welcomed any move that will increase returns to honey producers, coming at a time when non-mānuka honey returns are in the doldrums.
About 80% of the honey sold in the UK and EU is mānuka.
“The reality is we are still producing more honey than NZ can consume itself, so we need good export markets,” Lorimer said.
“There are still high stocks of honey out there and I understand a few larger operations are scaling back their hive numbers. I always felt it would take two to three years to recover, and the change in tariffs will help with that.”
In the past year NZ’s global sales of honey have declined 14% in volume and NZ sales into Europe for non-mānuka honey face intense competition from lower-grade and -value eastern European honeys.