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Freer Trade Threatens World Economy, Ecology

Trade Liberalisation Threat To World Economy And Ecology

Conservationists claim trade liberalisation will lead to an explosive increase in alien pests, weeds and diseases unless accompanied by a major upgrade of world biosecurity regimes.

Speaking tonight at a meeting of the South Auckland Branch of Forest and Bird in Howick, Forest and Bird's Conservation Director, Kevin Smith, said that the threat of pests and diseases was the Achilles heel of free trade.

"The economic benefits of free trade could be quickly overwhelmed by the economic and environmental damage inflicted by alien species spread by trade. In the United States just one alien species, the zebra mussel, spread in the ballast water of trade ships has caused more than $2 billion worth of damage."

Mr Smith said that politicians who enthusiastically embrace free trade were seriously underestimating the economic risks from the spread of alien species.

"Containers have been a boon to trade but have also accelerated the spread of invasive species. They are an ideal pathway for the spread of insects, slugs, snails and seeds from weed species. There is no agreed international biosecurity procedure for containers requiring regular cleaning and inspections."

Mr Smith gave as an example the painted apple moth which almost certainly hitchhiked into Auckland on a container. New Zealand's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is now desperately trying to eradicate the moth as it is feared it could become a serious pest.

"It is an indictment on the countries promoting free trade that their enthusiasm is not matched by an equal desire to upgrade international biosecurity. New Zealand in recent times has suffered from invasions of tussock moth, salt marsh mosquito, clover weevil, willow sawfly and a range of other alien insects. High risk trades such as used vehicle and machinery imports are the likely vectors for these pests. Even nastier pests, including the gypsy moth and the disease spreading tiger mosquito, are intercepted frequently at our borders. Sooner or later they will get through."

Mr Smith said poor countries were particularly susceptible to invasions of alien species because they lacked the technical and scientific expertise to undertake rigorous border quarantine.

"It is these poor countries that can least afford to have their crop plants attacked by alien species."

Mr Smith said international biosecurity systems were often a shambles.

"Incompetence, carelessness or corruption in some countries' quarantine services means that their quarantine certificates are often meaningless."

"Unless world biosecurity regimes are given a major overhaul, free trade will bring with it economic and ecological ruin. The arrival in New Zealand of one fungus from the United States, the pine pitch canker, could wipe out our $5 billion plantation forest industry. APEC should be promoting safe trade, not free trade."


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