Monday, March 13, 2006

Jim Anderton: European agriculture reforms have not gone far enough

The Minister of Agriculture responds to Mark Peart's comment last week

Mark Peart completely misses the point by asserting I "waxed lyrical" about European agriculture reforms. New Zealand's position - and mine - is that while some progress has been made, further progress, in the form of a level international trade environment, is urgently needed.

When addressing nearly 1000 British farmers on the subject of agricultural subsidies, it would be misguided to go in all guns blazing. The point made was that while some progress was apparent - the only point Peart picked up on - further progress should be a priority. What I then said is far more relevant both to European and New Zealand farmers, and ultimately all New Zealanders.

In the absence of subsidies, New Zealand agriculture is performing better now than it ever has. While the process of adjustment was not easy, today sheep farming is highly profitable, producing more sheep meat of a higher quality than ever before because our industry is market-led. In Europe, despite progress, subsidies remain.

New Zealand's position is that it is only fair for the global trading environment to allow others to make best use of their own competitive advantages - just as we expect to.

If the international trading field was even, our producers would be able to connect directly with customers around the world, and respond to market demand that was not distorted.

Those distortions include a 600 per cent duty on New Zealand beef imports to Norway, while Japan charges a 360 per cent duty on New Zealand butter.

It is nearly impossible to quantify the losses to New Zealand of such policies because of the range of markets and products affected. Removing these obstacles would allow customers to enjoy a wider range of products of varying prices and attributes.

It is noteworthy that EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel chose to visit New Zealand to see for herself how our agriculture industry performs so well.

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