25 Jan 2020

Renewed call for easier trade in agriculture welcomed in NZ

8:44 pm on 25 January 2020

A veteran trade lobby group emerged from hibernation in Switzerland last week to renew the call for easier trade in agriculture.

White and brown cows in a Dairy Cow Farm.

Photo: 123RF

The 19-nation Cairns Group made its plea after ministers met on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos last week.

The 33-year-old Cairns Group helped establish the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the 1990s.

But it went off the radar, after a later effort, the so-called Doha Round of trade talks, faltered.

However, Ministers from Cairns Group countries met at Davos last week and renewed the push for freer trade in agriculture, issuing a strong statement afterwards.

"The multilateral trading system embodied by the WTO is at a critical juncture and all members need to step up to preserve its credibility," the statement said.

It then went on to say agriculture was unfinished business from earlier trade talks.

"With half the world's population involved in agriculture, including many of the worlds' poorest and most food insecure communities, achieving more robust rules for agricultural trade would be an important contribution to addressing global inequality, providing sustainable economic development opportunities, addressing overall global food security needs and building an inclusive and effective global trading system," the statement said.

It added there needed to be substantial improvements in market access for agricultural products, to create more equitable conditions for international trade across the board.

The statement in Davos was welcomed New Zealand's Minister of Trade, David Parker, who was there at the time.

"Trade and production-distorting subsidies ...are harmful to the environment and prevent countries like New Zealand and many developing countries from competing fairly on the world market," David Parker said in a statement.

"All countries rely on a functioning sustainable, affordable and effective global food system. For those of us who have built exporting agricultural sectors, it is particularly important that we continue the work to update the WTO rules on agriculture."

The Cairns Group members account for more than 25 percent of world agricultural exports, and include large economies like Canada and Brazil as well as New Zealand and Australia and 15 other countries.

The statement at Davos was welcomed by the President of Federated Farmers Katie Milne.

"Free trade is massive for New Zealand, the more trade liberalisation, the better," she said.

"It is good for the people we trade with but it has made our farmers more efficient as well."