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O'Connor speech to Nelson Fed Farmers

Damien O'Connor speech to Nelson Fed Farmers

Nelson Federated Farmers annual meeting

Ladies and Gentlemen:It is my pleasure to join you today.

This year is an important year for farmers. At home, the pressure is on after a couple of good seasons, and internationally, the pressure is coming on as we seek to cement in better market access through the World Trade Organisation negotiations.

Primary production is the cornerstone of our economy, and I think it is a truism to say that when farmers do well, the country does well. This Government is here to work in partnership with you to ensure better prosperity for all our citizens.

One of the ways we are doing this is through government programmes funded in the Budget.

This year's Budget is good for rural communities. There are several measures in the Budget that directly benefit farmers, growers, and other primary producers. These include $14.2 million over four years for support for World Trade Organisation negotiations and bilateral Closer Economic Partnerships and other trade agreements, and more than $6 million a year in new funding for biosecurity.

The Sustainable Farming Fund, which enhances rural communities' economic, social, and environmental sustainability, also received an extra $10.6 million a year for the next three years.

I note that Federated Farmers' national office has welcomed the increases in biosecurity and trade negotiations funding. They recognise the importance of these to members.

The Government also has initiatives within areas such as health, welfare, and education specifically targeted for rural communities ? for example, the Heartland Services Centres, and rural retention funding for medical providers.

So, the increases in social spending outlined in yesterday's Budget benefit rural people significantly too. If the Government is to deliver the quality of services New Zealanders have a right to expect, the sustainable growth rate has to rise. The government has set itself the task of restoring New Zealand to the top half of the OECD in terms of per capita income, and the budget promotes this objective through a series of measures to support the Growth and Innovation Framework.

These include $140 million over four years for research, science and technology, $110 million to respond to the recommendations of the taskforces into biotechnology, design, screen production and ICT and $73 million to promote overseas trade.

All these things directly affect rural people.

More than 80 per cent of primary products grown here are exported. Getting into overseas markets at fair levels is hugely important for our farmers, fishermen, and foresters. Market access matters to you ? if New Zealand loses access to key markets, we all suffer.

I welcome the growing emphasis on trade in economic development policies. Increased trade through reducing government-level barriers among our trading partners and making it easier for firms to get into exporting and export more, will give the New Zealand economy a significant boost.

This latest round of WTO negotiations has huge potential for New Zealand. Research carried out by MAF on the quantitative benefits of the last big round of international trade negotiations, the Uruguay Round, showed in the single year of 2000 (the year that many of the gains of the Uruguay Round kicked in) the beef, sheepmeat, and dairy sectors gained about $590 million from product price and volume increases in the major markets of the United States and European Union.

That works out to an average increase in earnings for each sheep, beef, or dairy farmer of $11,500 a year.

The Doha Development Round has even greater potential.

Multilateral organisations are extremely important to New Zealand ? and not just in trade.

Climate change, for example.

Climate change resulting from human activities is not a hypothesis, it is a matter of overwhelming scientific consensus. To be honest, I think we can all see the results just by looking out the window. Weather patterns in New Zealand have changed.

Climate change, and the overall health of the atmosphere, is now the biggest global environmental issue. If this generation does not act, our descendants will have to bear the consequences.

Climate change is not only an environmental issue, it is also an issue of economic security. Climate change can lead to more frequent extreme climatic events such as floods and droughts, and biosecurity threats from subtropical pests and diseases.

The major single source of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions is methane and nitrous oxide from pastoral agriculture. The Government's policy package to respond to the Kyoto Protocol ensures that these emissions will not be subject to a charge for the first commitment period. This decision recognises the difficulty in measuring these types of emissions and the reality that there are currently no "off the shelf" solutions to reliably reduce these emissions.

However, this is conditional on the sector being willing to invest in research aimed at reducing agricultural emissions. Such research is also likely to generate other spin-offs such as improving animal productivity and feed conversion rates, and lead to more precise and efficient nitrogen fertiliser application.

New Zealand stands to be a net economic beneficiary from the Kyoto Protocol. This is because of the credit we potentially gain for carbon sinks, and because it will create new business opportunities by raising international demand for new technologies and encouraging energy efficiency.

It's not an issue we can tackle on our own though. We have to work together in concert with other nations to achieve our goal. That is the point of the Kyoto Protocol.

That's why the Government ratified the Kyoto Protocol and has moved ahead with implementation. It's in the benefit of our citizens. That reasoning governs other unpopular measures we have to carry out - such as the painted apple moth aerial spraying programme in West Auckland.

Biosecurity is another key issue for us all and this Government.

I'm very pleased the Budget boosted biosecurity funding for the fourth year in a row.

Budget 2003 allocates extra money for aircraft, passenger, and mail clearance, exotic disease response capability, specifically for foot and mouth disease, reference laboratories, and surveillance for gypsy moth, wood-boring and bark beetles, and fire ants.

In addition, Government has allocated through the cross-departmental research pool administered by MORST money to produce a national wildlife disease surveillance framework. This will to enable the future development of strategic and prioritized wildlife surveillance systems. (This is important for farmers as well, as wildlife has the potential to spread foot and mouth disease, as it presently spreads bovine tuberculosis and varroa bee mite.)

This Government takes biosecurity extremely seriously. Since we became Government in 1999, we have worked to fill the holes and close the gaps previous governments left in our biosecurity and border controls.

Extra Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry staff have been employed, more soft-tissue x-ray machines and detector dogs have been installed in airports around the country. Instant fines for breaches have been implemented. We are still the only country in the world to screen mail, air crew and passengers and their baggage for biosecurity breaches.

According to an Auditor-General's report, this Government is now spending $50 million extra a year on baseline biosecurity funding than previous governments.

Primary production is the cornerstone of the New Zealand economy, and the Government is working hard to ensure our country is kept free from pests and diseases that could devastate trees, crops, and animals.

The threat to New Zealand posed by new pests and diseases grows, in proportion to traveler numbers and freight volume, compounded by the increased speed of travel and exacerbated by climate change.

Our response has been a process of continual improvement in biosecurity.

A key part of that continual improvement is getting across the message that biosecurity is not something just Government officials or politicians do. It's something all New Zealanders are responsible for and should be involved in. That's not just in making sure risk materials aren't brought into the country, but also in working together to do whatever necessary to discover and eradicate pests and diseases if they do make it here.

In this connection, there is a very important process going on in New Zealand at the moment, that will have significant ramifications for the primary production industry.

I refer to the formation of New Zealand's first biosecurity strategy.

All too often, government decision-making amounts to a series of ad hoc measures that may or may not produce a rational, coherent, long-term outcome. Biosecurity is too important for New Zealand to be treated in that way.

Almost 150 submissions were made on the draft strategy document, published in December. Those submissions are being worked on now, and we hope to have the final strategy document out later next month.

Currently, our biosecurity measures are under the microscope again as we have had a flurry of incursions by moths, ants, and mosquitos during the past month.

These latest incursions confirm there are still areas for improvement. That's not a surprise.

Sea containers are a significant risk area. A $1 million research study into sea freight risks has recently been completed and its report published, along with a discussion document proposing options for tighter controls. The research on this area came in too late to have measures to tighten border control and biosecurity as part of this Budget Round, but it will be folded into the Biosecurity Strategy project, which will inevitably generate proposals for more spending.

I can give you a personal commitment that the Government is not complacent in this area, and that we intend to have enhanced biosecurity measures for sea containers by the end of this year. I caution people however that new measures are likely to be costly, to reduce efficiency in our ports, and will not prevent frequent incursions.

Thank you.

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