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MAF officials visit Australia for fireblight talks

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry officials would visit Australia next month to meet with Australian counterparts to discuss the report proposing the strictest conditions in the world on the importation of New Zealand apples, Agriculture and Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton said today.

Biosecurity Australia, the agency responsible for assessing whether to allow plant and animal imports into Australia, made public the draft import risk analysis on New Zealand apples last Wednesday (October 11).

New Zealand has been trying to export fruit into Australia for 78 years but has been continually barred, for fear they might carry fireblight, a disease affecting apple trees.

New Zealand maintains that fireblight is not transmitted by mature fruit.

Mr Sutton, who returned to New Zealand today after attending the Cairns Group of agricultural trading nations meeting in Canada last week, said he would take advice from officials and expert scientists and would carefully consider the import risk analysis (IRA) report.

"If this is not scientifically based, we will take appropriate action. We will certainly be making a submission under the IRA process."

The interim risk analysis is subject to 60 days of consultation, before a final decision is made, probably some time in the new year.

MAF and Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry officials met ENZA and other apple industry groups last Thursday to discuss the IRA proposals, Mr Sutton said. Industry participants told officials that preliminary study of the proposals suggested that apple exports to Australia under the "unjustifiably restrictive" conditions were likely to be uneconomic.

Mr Sutton said MAF officials would visit Australia next month to talk to Australia counterparts, before a New Zealand Government submission was made as part of the IRA consultation process.

Mr Sutton said the IRA report was "pretty disappointing" but the process was not over yet.

He said there was an opportunity for all interested parties to make comments or raise objections of the IRA.

"Australians have had a generation of propaganda that portrays fireblight as the foot and mouth of the horticultural industry ? but it is nothing of the sort. Their fears are unwarranted.

"The risk of infection is minimal and their own scientific report concedes there is absolutely no scientific evidence that fireblight has ever been spread through trade in fruit."


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