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Sutton Speech: Federated Farmers

Jim Sutton Speech: Federated Farmers meat and fibre section AGM Wellington

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for the invitation to speak today.

I said before many times, and I say it again today: the livelihoods of all of us in New Zealand, rural and urban, depended on being able to sell our products in the markets of other nations.

More than 80 per cent of the meat, dairy products, wool, and other products from our land-based industry are exported.

So having access to overseas markets is vital to us.

That access isn't a right. It's a privilege and we have to work constantly to maintain it, let alone enhance it.

Last week, I wrote to California to Governor Schwarzenegger to thank him for his decision to veto proposed forestry legislation which would have required any Californian state agency which was contracting for, or acquiring, lumber or other wood products to give preferential treatment to wood products harvested by environmentally sustainable practices from within California.

California is a significant market for New Zealand timber, particularly with home development DIY chains. On its own, it's one of the larger economies in the world.

Officials had made strong representations to the California State Legislature and to Governor Schwarzenegger that this bill would exclude New Zealand timber, despite our sustainable forestry practices.

Earlier this month, Governor Schwarzenegger wrote to the California State Assembly to veto the bill, saying the bill would take the state in the opposite direction of the general trend for free and open trade in a global economy.

Rather, Governor Schwarzenegger encouraged all Californians to buy voluntarily Californian-grown products, when all other specifications are equal. This is the appropriate way to do things, so that consumers have the choice.

Yesterday, the tremendous efforts by officials from both New Zealand and China resulted in a breakthrough that should see our meat exports make good headway in the general Chinese market.

The future of New Zealand's meat trade with China appears more secure following China's agreement to a process that should allow early registration of meat plants.

Following meetings in Beijing last week with officials from the NZ Food Safety Authority and our embassy, the Chinese government has agreed in principle to allow the existing trade in meat products to continue while the details of registration processes is finalised.

The existing trade is restricted to meat for re-processing, re-export, and the hospitality trade. In future, registered meat plants will be able to export to the general market.

The Chinese have also agreed to admit meat from "integrated plants" (plants were all stages of the meat process take place onsite) without China's own inspectors having to inspect each of them. Instead, they have agreed to accept FSA assurance of standards at those plants.

This represents excellent progress, and it clearly resulted from the goodwill and willingness of both sides to co-operate.

New Zealand and Chinese authorities showed a clear mutual desire to maintain the trade while working through the technical details of meeting China's new food safety requirements.

We have known for some time that China would issue no new import permits after 1 November for meat sourced from plants that had not been registered. Officials and ministers have been working at many levels to ensure that New Zealand's trade is in a position to continue.

Last month, that wasn't looking too good, but Chinese authorities have worked with goodwill to ensure we are not disadvantaged. I'd like to publicly recognise the efforts of my counterpart Bo Xilai, and those of Chinese ambassador to New Zealand Chen Mingming.

So now, we'll have a transitional arrangement. The existing arrangements would continue for a short time while registration formalities were completed. I hope our trade will move to a proper footing shortly.

NZFSA will issue detailed technical guidance to industry on requirements for exports to China. We expect that, in the future, producers will be able to export to China with confidence, provided they meet the standards agreed to in principle last week.

News that a process had also been agreed in Beijing for further work on registration of "non-integrated plants" and for trade in green offals (eg tripe) is also welcome.

Those two cases are trade issues from potential protectionism in one case and proper food safety concerns in the other.

But there are influences in international trade that seriously affect your livelihoods in other ways than I have just outlined. A major risk for you ? and for all producers ? is that of fashion.

A newspaper last week described AFFCO's excellent financial result as due to a Hollywood actress promoting the Atkins diet and a mad cow in Canada.

I think we're all aware of the risks of disease, but I'm not so sure that farmers are as cogniscent of fashion risk.

Wool farmers are still grappling with the impact of fashion on them. The rise of synthetic fibres, especially polar fleece, in clothing, and lately, the rise of merino wool clothing.

Currently, meat farmers are benefiting by the low-carbohydrate diet trend, especially that promoted by Dr Atkins. Hollywood stars have embraced this diet, and many millions around the Western world have followed them. Steaks are top of the pops, and that's great for red meat farmers.

However, there are already signs that this trend is about to end, and who knows what the next one will be?

You will have heard about the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' campaign against Australian merino farmers' use of mulesing, I'm sure. PETA's campaigns are many and varied and extend to campaigns to ban the drinking of milk and the wearing of all wool and silk ? because the production of meat, wool, and silk exploit animals.

There is also the Centre for a Livable Future, founded by a professor of preventative medicine at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, in the United States. This group campaigns against modern food production methods, and their latest campaign is called "meatless Mondays".

Now you might think this is all very fringe, but he got three and a half pages in the highly respected New Scientist magazine to put his views? so it's worth taking seriously.

Moral beliefs and food safety scares have turned many, both here and overseas, to vegetarianism.

If we want people to keep eating our products ? or most importantly, buying our products ? then we have to promote them. We have to be proud of them, and we need to highlight how good our products are and the health advantages of red meat. It's rich in iron and essential vitamins, for example.

The government is doing its part. My officials and I endlessly promote the safe, high-quality products that New Zealand produces, especially the red meat and wool grown by farmers such as yourselves.

We are committed to doing whatever we can to maintain and enhance market access for New Zealand exporters.

You can see that in our work on Plan A, the World Trade Organisation's multilateral negotiations. For the first time ever, we have a commitment to eliminate export subsidies, the most pernicious distorters of international trade.

Plan B ? the negotiation of bilateral, plurilateral, and regional trade agreements ? is also going well. We are close to agreements with Thailand, and with Singapore and Chile in a P3 agreement. We hope to start negotiations with China soon. And there are many other prospects in the wings.

Domestically, the Labour-Progressive Government has implemented policies to boost regional development and to ensure that Government services return to rural and provincial areas.

Ladies and Gentlemen: this Government is committed to improving the lives of all our citizens. We're doing that in a number of ways: working in partnership to provide growth, jobs, and opportunities in our regions, as well as working hard overseas to maintain and enhance market access for the high-quality goods and services our farmers, growers, foresters, manufacturers, educators, tourist operators, and other exporters provide.

Thank you.

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