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Clark: Opening of Fieldays

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Address to


Mystery Creek Events Centre,

12.30 pm
Wednesday, 11 June 2008
It's great to be able to join you at this 40th opening of the National Fieldays.

What began as a small event at Te Rapa Race Course in 1969 has become not only one of the Waikato's largest events, but an event of significance across our country and internationally.

Quite simply, these Fieldays here at Mystery Creek are recognised as being among the world's leading farmshows.

That truly is a tribute to the visionaries who got behind them 40 years ago.

New Zealand farmers have long been recognised as being among the most innovative and the keenest adopters of technology in the world.

The Fieldays thrive because they respond to our farmers' thirst for information and new ideas.

The very latest in science, technology and services is always on show here.

The theme of this year's Fieldays - the Science of Farming – reflects that – and it's critical to the future of our land-based industries.

New Zealand agriculture's leading edge has been driven by science and technology and their application to our industries.

In the 21st century that's how we will sustain our edge – giving us continuing productivity gains, advanced processing, and high value agritechnology and services too.

The pastoral and food sectors continue to make an outstanding contribution to our economy – contributing well over half our export earnings.

But there's wide recognition in the sectors that business as usual won't do.

We face significant competition from the low cost, high volume producers like those in Latin America.

We don't want their low incomes, and there are limitations to our land area for agriculture.

So we need to compete in different ways :

• through higher value branded products,

• through meeting the demand for functional foods – consumed for their additional health benefits,

• by meeting expectations of first world consumers for products which have been sustainably produced and distributed – and have environmental integrity, and

• by promoting applications from our land based production which take us into medical and health products, pharmaceuticals and nutriceuticals.

As well New Zealand has become a significant exporter of advanced agritechnology and agriservices – and now of whole farm systems.

There are exciting offshore developments where New Zealand investors are taking our knowhow on a large scale into farming in Latin America.

Agribusiness is doing the same in processing – Fonterra is now Chile's largest dairy exporter.

In government we see strong partnerships with the land-based sectors as critical to New Zealand's success.

In our first term, we passed the necessary legislation through Parliament to enable Fonterra to be established and grow as a world leading agribusiness – that has clearly been achieved.

We've worked with the sector to manage adversity from New Zealand's increasingly erratic climate – the major flooding of 2004; the huge snow event in 2006, and now the fallout from the widespread drought of the past year.

Together with the pastoral and food industries, we've launched the New Zealand Fast Forward Fund with a capital contribution of $700 million from government, and matching contributions planned from industry.

This amounts to the largest ever single investment in science and innovation in New Zealand

It's about increasing the returns to the New Zealand producer and to the whole economy.

It's about adding value at every step in the chain from the farm gate to the consumer plate.

And then there's the huge programme of work we've had on trade policy – opening up market access on fair terms to New Zealand exporters.

A big focus for me as Prime Minister has been our trade relationships.

The WTO Doha round is critical, but it's made slow progress.

So we've got on with other initiatives – with excellent results.

The big breakthrough has been with China. We signed the New Zealand-China FTA on 7 April, becoming the first developed country in the world to do so.

Agribusiness was well represented in our delegation to China because breaking down the tariff barriers there means so much to our farmers – and to our whole economy.

The trade agenda doesn't end there – we and Australia are close to finalising an FTA with all of South East Asia – with its population of half a billion people.

We are negotiating an FTA with India – its population now exceeds a billion people.

And now for the first time we are seeing interest in Japan and Korea in FTAs with New Zealand. They are both high value markets for us, but they are also markets with high tariffs on our food products.

There is good reason for Japan and Korea to change their attitude to New Zealand.

We are a high quality, reliable food producer, at a time of world food shortage.

And that problem won't go away anytime soon.

The world's population is soaring – and within that the middle class populations in mega economies like China and India are growing fast. They can afford, and they are demanding, more food – and better quality food.

This is happening at a time when the world's climate is erratic and badly affecting food production and supply.

We've seen that with our own drought this last year. Australia's prolonged drought has taken significant quantities of food out of world markets.

Catastrophes like the cyclone and flooding through Burma's main rice growing area adversely affect that country's ability to feed its people.

Clearly at this time there are major opportunities for New Zealand's land-based industries. We are competitive – and we are world class.

But there's no room for complacency. In time there will be a market response to the world's food supply problems, and we can't be left stranded as a low value supplier.

Our exporters have battled a high dollar and interest rates higher than they would like, along with often difficult climatic conditions, and for sheep and beef farmers low prices.

So going forward, it can't be business as usual.

We need to draw on all our resources – across the land-based industries, our education and science establishments, our resilient rural communities and government to be innovative and responsive to international market trends going forward.

I have every confidence that working together we can ensure that our land-based industries continue to make an outstanding contribution to our country's prosperity – and that these Fieldays with their focus on science, technology, education, and innovation will continue, to play a vital role supporting that contribution.


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