16 November 2020    The Government’s newly-minted Cabinet is undoubtedly facing the pressure to hit the ground running.  

The challenges of COVID-19, a volatile global economy and signs of increasing protectionism all mean that speed of decision-making and action will be critical.

The primary sector is playing a key role in New Zealand’s export-led economic recovery. Now a strong focus on supporting farmers and meat processors and exporters to keep delivering must be maintained.

We are New Zealand’s largest manufacturing industry and the nation’s second largest goods exporter ($9.4 billion per annum), accounting for almost five per cent of the country's employment and contributing $4.6b in household income - around $3,300 per household.

This is in part due to a strong and constructive relationship with Government to create regulatory frameworks that keep an eye on outcomes while allowing flexibility to innovate, manage costs and achieve compliance. There are areas we would encourage the Government to focus on over the next three years to support us to keep delivering for New Zealand.

The industry’s vital role in the economic recovery requires a clear pathway for ongoing trade, and we are pleased that the Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister, Damien O’Connor, also has the Trade and Export Growth portfolio.

We see this as a signal of the intrinsic link between agriculture, trade and biosecurity settings and New Zealand’s future prosperity. The key will be getting the right setting across these portfolios to support New Zealand as a producer and exporter of safe, high quality food. 

A key lesson from previous global recessions is that an economic recovery requires trade to expand again – robust trade rules and international co-operation on trade policy are important.

The Government must continue to take a strong leadership role on trade, including maintaining current market access, negotiating new high quality Free Trade Agreements with the likes of the EU and UK, addressing current and future Non-Tariff Barriers and enforcing global trade rules to protect New Zealand interests.

As an exporting country, New Zealand relies on stable and predictable access to a multiplicity of markets. This allows our marketers and exporters to capture the best economic return and deliver for our farmers and growers.  

In this regard, we welcome the Government’s call for market diversification. We already export to some 120 countries – a strategy which helped us weather the worst of the Covid-19 storm.

From our experience, market diversification is just as much about shoring up and maintaining existing access as it is about opening up new emerging opportunities. The two must go hand in hand, particularly in these uncertain times when we must reject protectionism.

We are keeping a close eye on events in the UK and Europe, in particular, their proposal to split WTO country specific quotas, including New Zealand's sheep and beef quotas.

Our strong concern is that this will erode the quality and quantity of our market access into these high value markets. It represents a major step back from the trade liberalisation positions claimed by both the EU and UK, and undermines their WTO commitments and their legally binding obligations.

The New Zealand Government must resist this move. It removes our market access rights and ability to respond to commercial opportunities.

Continuing to operate and export relies on having the desired number of people and the right level of skills in our manufacturing facilities. Migrant workers in skilled or specialised occupations are critical for an industry that employs approximately 25,000 people, the large majority of which are New Zealanders.

We established a constructive relationship with the Immigration Minister and his officials during the Covid-19 response and stand ready to continue the work to find timely, pragmatic and enduring solutions to fill positions, including for our Halal slaughterers to allow us to capture $3 billion in export earnings from halal certified products.

We remain committed to partnering with the Government on a Sector Agreement on Immigration. This is the best permanent solution to ensure immigration policy is developed to reflect our industry’s genuine needs and those of the country.

At the same time, we are investing in a workforce development strategy to attract, train and retain New Zealanders to the red meat sector. This is part of our commitment to creating a sustainable workforce. 

As an industry which trains more than 6000 workers a year in NZQA qualifications, it is critical that a vocational training system is put in place that recognises the importance of on-the-job training, delivers quickly the qualifications that industry needs, and is responsive to industry.

At the same time, any changes to the employment relations model must be well targeted to avoid unintended consequences and respect the long-standing, sound and stable employment relationships that have been carefully tailored to deliver benefits to workers and keep processing plant running efficiently.

It is very exciting to see someone with a strong scientific background like Dr Ayesha Verrall take on the important role of  Minister for Food Safety, and  Associate Minister of Research, Science and Innovation.

New Zealand is recognised as a global leader for food safety– in terms of our industry, science and regulatory systems. This enables us to uphold New Zealand’s strong reputation as a producer of high-quality safe food; to gain access to overseas markets; and to maintain consumer confidence.

Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in the safety of their food and how and where it is produced. We have an outstanding story to tell that is evidence based, backed by credible science and underpinned by on-going investment in research, science and innovation. This puts us in a good position to target discerning consumers worldwide.