Banning NZ apples could hurt innocent farmers

Following the approval from Biosecurity last week that New Zealand apples would be allowed into Australia, there has been warnings from the NZ government our trade reputation would be damaged if imports are blocked.

Opposition agriculture spokesman John Cobb will introduce a private bill to parliament on today that aims to overturn an import clearance by Australia’s biosecurity and quarantine authorities.

Agriculture spokesman John Cobb told the ABC the move is a warning for the government and authorities that it should not put trade before quarantine and there needs to be better protection against foreign pests and diseases.

"They [New Zealand] don’t care about whether we get fire blight, they just want to get their apples into Australia," he said.

"Now what you have to remember is we are not saying what the protocols should be, we are forcing the minister to say are you doing what you’re legally entitled to do, or are you doing what will make New Zealand happy, rather than protect your own industry."

NZ Trade Minister Tim Groser, said blocking NZ apples would seriously damage the international trade reputation and believes the opposition’s proposal will fail.

"This is essentially much bigger than just an issue around apples," he said.

"For Australia to go all the way and not implement a finding of the international judicial system would cause a serious question about Australia’s credibility.

"And I’ve got enough confidence in the Australia political leadership to believe that there’s no way they are going to go all that distance."

Groser said there is an understanding that the Australian government has to accept the apples under international trades rules, and he’s not expecting a trade war.

"We have a great relationship and I don’t really think we are going to get into the absurdity of retaliation against what would be an internationally astonishing move," he said.

"Certainly retaliation is legally possible under those circumstances, but I do not believe for a minute we will get to there."

Trade Minister Craig Emerson also warned MP’s the move is in breach of world trade rules and he is demanding Opposition Leader Tony Abbott deny the move because it is in breach of World Trade Organisation.

"If he supports the bill or sends it off to committee, Mr Abbott will cement in place his anti-trade, isolationist credentials," he said in a statement.

Emerson continued that Parliamentary approval of the bill would put Australia in breach of the world trading rules, which could lead to retaliation against innocent Australian farmers.

Biosecurity Australia found the risks associated with fire blight can be managed and overturned the ban on NZ imports that had been in place since the discovery of the disease in the 1920s.

Shane Hetherington, research leader in horticulture with the NSW DPI, said the issue was part of a risk assessment of New Zealand imports.

While the scientific evidence for infection is not compelling, the circumstantial case is, he explained.

"Circumstantial evidence is that we are probably going to get fire blight.

"In the great majority of cases where countries have imported apples form countries that already have fire blight, they develop fireblight themselves."

Image: NZ Exporter



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