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Jim Sutton Speech To Aussie Ag Ministers

Hon Jim Sutton Speech Notes

Agriculture and Resource Management
Ministers of Australia and New Zealand,
Wellington

Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning and welcome to Wellington.

While I met many of you at the dinner last night, I would say in a more formal setting that I trust your visit to Wellington is pleasant and fruitful. For those able to be stay on for a short time after the meeting - and I know of a few - I hope you enjoy a bit more of New Zealand.

This morning, I want to take a few minutes of the Council’s time - at the beginning of its agenda - to talk about New Zealand’s approach to agriculture, resource management, rural communities and biosecurity. These are the substantive matters of this Council - but because of the understandably Australian focus to the Council’s business, the New Zealand process is seldom raised.

The bottom line is that agriculture and rural communities are of fundamental importance to this country. The primary sectors are the cornerstone of the New Zealand economy - around 16 percent of our GNP and around 60 percent of our export earnings come from primary products and mostly in the form of dairy, meat and forest products. The agriculture sector has also been one of the higher performing sectors of the New Zealand economy. Productivity has increased - on average - 4 percent per year between 1985 and 1998. Whereas the average annual productivity growth of our economy as a whole was a pathetic 1 per cent over the past 20 years.

This level of agricultural growth is expected to continue and agriculture is expected to retain its prominent place in the New Zealand economy - despite manufactured goods and the service sector becoming increasingly important.

Perhaps the most obvious pattern emerging within New Zealand is a significant upsurge in dairy and forestry. Sheep and beef numbers are being squeezed at the top end by conversion to dairy farms and at the low end by conversion to planted forests. These and other changes have had an impact for many rural communities.

Given this profile, my Cabinet portfolios of Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Trade Negotiations fit together well.

I'm also responsible for New Zealand's biosecurity measures at the moment - usually handled by a different minister.

The New Zealand Government is focused on creating opportunity for and managing risk to our food, fibre, forestry and associated industries: „h encouraging self-reliance among farmers and rural communities to sustainably manage land, water, genetic material - and biological production systems „h Managing risks - to protect New Zealand’s unique biodiversity and natural resources and to provide consumers and foreign governments with credible assurances of food safety „h Negotiating for the liberalisation of international trade.

New Zealand’s most valuable resources are land and water. It is sound economic sense to preserve the base on which our livelihood as a country depends. This can only be achieved through the concept of sustainable management - encompassing the themes of use, development and protection - which is defined in the Resource Management Act 1991. The Act is the principle statute for the management of land - subdivision - water - soil resources - the coast - air - and pollution control including noise control. It sets out the rights and responsibilities of individuals, territorial and regional councils and central government.

The focus of the Act is on controlling the environmental effects of land use activities - rather than the activities themselves.

A hierarchy of plans and policy statements is established - Central government can issue national policy statements - to provide direction for district and regional councils - on any aspect of resource management which is of national significance.

Regional councils are responsible for regional policy statements - that provide a consistent approach to regional issues and may also prepare plans for a particular resource - or aspect of resource use. Within regions - territorial authorities are responsible for land use planning at the district level.

The agriculture sector - as a major user of natural resources - must comply with the concept of sustainable management defined in the Resource Management Act 1991.

For example - changing trends in the agriculture sector coupled with increasing recreational and environmental demands for water in rivers have led to water shortages in some areas of New Zealand. The largest abstractive use of freshwater in New Zealand is irrigation. The demand for water is currently exceeding, or will soon exceed, that available in several areas. This has been identified as a major constraint to sustainable development in these regions.

To achieve our sustainable development goals, improving the way we allocate water is a priority for Government. We need to ensure that standards for water use are legitimate constraints, transparent and appropriate.

We are working with regional councils, farmers and horticulturists to improve the way we use our water. We can’t make more water but we can use what we’ve got better. In doing so we can increase production in the rural sector and improve environmental outcomes.

Regrettably the significant contribution of the agriculture sector to New Zealand’s economic growth has not necessarily ensured the viability of rural communities. The survival of many is at risk.

Structural changes of the recent past - along with a number of adverse natural events - have highlighted areas where support is needed. As a former New Zealand Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment once said - it’s hard to be green when you are in the red. Passing legislation - such as the Resource Management Act - may not solve land use issues. Dealing with these may require further change in farm management - financial arrangements - and rural communities. Government has an obligation to seek opportunities to enhance rural social and economic outcomes.

In September last year I launched our Sustainable Farming Fund. The purpose of the fund is to help solve community problems - to improve the financial and environmental performance of the land-based sectors and help rural communities overcome barriers to their environmental, economic and social wellbeing. The fund provides support to practical community-driven projects that transfer information and technology, to help people to make informed decisions, and bring together ¡§communities of interest¡¨ to address problems and improve the community economic base.

Applications for funds have been five-times greater than the total amount of funding available. So, there’s no shortage of ideas. The real measure of success will be seeing rural communities benefit from their projects. It’s too early to tell whether the rural enthusiasm for the fund will produce our desired result.

Our primary sectors, the rural community and the New Zealand economy, are also at risk from the policies of foreign governments and particularly from barriers to market access.

It is important to discuss non-tariff barriers and sanitary and phytosanitary measures in particular - since we cannot ignore the growing tension between a more open global trading environment and the maintenance of biosecurity.

New Zealand and Australia have a compelling obligation to protect the extraordinary variety of unique indigenous species that live in our respective countries. It’s also fascinating to observe that our agriculture sectors actually consist almost entirely of introduced species.

The fact that our agriculture sector is based on introduced species has undoubted advantages - not least of which is that we are free of many natural pests and diseases. For example - New Zealand sheep are free of scrapie.

The New Zealand Government is making every effort to manage the tensions between a more open trading environment and the maintenance of biosecurity. We wish to be trusted and respected in both areas.

Naturally, we want to maintain or improve the pest free status our country. We have a border control system to keep out unwanted pests and diseases, and a system for the managed introduction and release of genetic material not already present in New Zealand.

Looking outwards, our economy is heavily reliant on maintaining and improving access to foreign markets and an open trading environment. The risk of the establishment of unjustified barriers to trade is very real. My strong view is that we must approach international trade in a way that helps move goods as smoothly, predictably and as freely as possible.

I needn’t furnish examples of what I’m talking about - I’m sure we can all think of some. I only need to say the word "apples"

Clearly New Zealand and Australia have a mutual interest in quarantine. We have a similar mutual interest in removing unjustified sanitary and phytosantiary measures that impede trade. The New Zealand Government will continue to be very active on biosecurity and food safety issues, but also in promoting market access, by, among other things, addressing technical or standards-related barriers to trade.

In my opinion this presents a worthwhile challenge for the Council - to undertake work in managing the links between food safety and quality and biosecurity, to the benefit of Australia and New Zealand. The importance of this is abundantly clear to me in my capacity as Minister for Trade Negotiations - and I’m thinking particularly of our moves - New Zealand’s and Australia’s - to develop regional trade agreements with ASEAN and Singapore, Chile and the US. We have in recent years been strengthening cooperation in areas of common interest.

In this context, our unilateral actions do affect both our countries. Negative perceptions of either will hamper our joint and several efforts. Regrettably, sanitary and phytosanitary regulation is proving to be a problem area. We Ministers need to make our A/NZ relationship work more effectively to take CER further and help create further opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region. We can celebrate that fact that CER has come a long way but we should also recognise the need to take it further.

In Auckland - last August - just after the ARMCANZ meeting - Mark Vaile and I held a CER Trade Ministers’ Meeting. At that meeting we welcomed the progress made in the high-level CER biosecurity dialogue. We reviewed several outstanding bilateral quarantine issues, expressed our expectation that these would be resolved within a reasonable timeframe, and reaffirmed our commitment to continuing to uphold our international commitments in this area.

In closing, New Zealand and Australia are similar in many ways - our historical, cultural, family, business links are broad and deep.

Others too view us as being close. We are both major food exporting nations and - more or less - our respective agriculture sectors are reliant on international trade for their viability. In international trade - we work together on WTO disputes for example against US sheepmeat safeguards action and in broader-based efforts for example in APEC and the Cairns Group.

I believe - over the next few years - this Council should take advantage of this unity to more effectively address issues that impact on the viability and profitability of our primary sectors.

Thank you.

Office of Hon Jim Sutton


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