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Apple industry in throes of change

Applegrowers were protesting at a time when two major reviews of their industry were already underway, Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton said today.

The Agriculture and Forestry Ministry is reviewing the regulatory framework of the apple and pear exporting industry, and Mr Sutton again urged growers and all industry participants to make submissions on their views about the industry's future direction.

At the same time, ENZA's new board of directors has completed its review of the organisation's structure and operations. Mr Sutton is to be briefed on that review's findings later this week.

Mr Sutton said there had been a lot of heat in the debate about the apple industry's future lately, but not a lot of light.

In response to ACT MP Gerry Eckhoff's statement yesterday that Hawkes Bay apple growers were to march on Parliament to demand immediate deregulation, Mr Sutton said other applegrowers from many parts of the country had approached him asking that deregulation not be imposed on the industry.

He said Government policy on producer board reform was that any change had to have an industry mandate, be fair to minority interests and be in the national interest. The apple industry had yet to come to him with a mandate.

"Mr Eckhoff obviously supports changing the previously agreed rules, in the middle of the game, to gratify one group of interests."

To immediately dump the present system of having one dominant exporter (ENZA) and independent niche marketers licensed, would be to unilaterally overturn the collective democratic decision of the industry, confirmed by referendum only last year, Mr Sutton said.

"Surely only a group as arrogant and dictatorial as ACT would want that."

Mr Sutton said the Government had established an inclusive consultation process to consider further structural options. In the meantime, the system has been finetuned, so independent export permits can now be issued, for up to three years.

Substantially more permits had been approved than last year, with many others still to be decided.

"This should ensure there will be export opportunities for all export quality apples."

Mr Sutton said that he had sought assurances from ENZA earlier this year that there would not be significant risk of large volumes of export quality fruit lacking either an ENZA supply contract or an export permit.

"I received assurances that ENZA intended to export a minimum of 15.5 million cartons, and that if there was export quality fruit available above that, ENZA would market it."

Grading standards were to be much the same as last season.


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