New Era in Trans-Tasman Co-operation Will Ease Trade Restrictions

8 March 2000

New Zealand and Australia have entered a new era of co-operation over biosecurity, which will ultimately see fewer barriers to trans-Tasman trade in animal or plant products.

Australia is this country's biggest trading partner, and we have a unique trading relationship under the CER (Closer Economic Relations) agreement. For most New Zealand products, Australia is effectively the equivalent of a domestic market. But there are biosecurity concerns when it comes to trade in animal or plant products, and biosecurity restrictions are still permitted under CER.

Recognising a need to address these concerns, late last year the former Minister for Food, Fibre, Biosecurity and Border Control, John Luxton, and his Australian counterpart, Warren Truss established a senior level policy co-ordination group to rekindle efforts in bringing trans-Tasman biosecurity arrangements into closer line. Previously officials from the two countries had held frequent discussions, but it was felt a more proactive approach was needed.

The policy group, known as the Consultative Group on Biosecurity Co-operation, includes MAF Biosecurity's Group Director, Barry O'Neil, and International Agreements Manager, Andrew Matheson.

Mr Matheson says they're working closely with their Australian colleagues to provide the overall impetus and direction for harmonising biosecurity measures affecting trade between the two countries. "Our brief is to oversee the specialist working groups set up as part of this initiative, and to report on progress and provide advice to ministers as appropriate," he explains.

Co-operation at the technical level has also been strengthened with the creation of three technical working groups which are looking specifically at animal health, plant health, and border operations. "These groups deal with the nuts and bolts of access issues," says Mr Matheson.

"They will review existing biosecurity measures, and identify those which are not based on a contemporary risk analysis, do not appear to be based on sound science, or do not reflect genuine differences in pest or disease status or differences in the level of sanitary or phytosanitary protection deemed appropriate by either country".

The technical groups are also examining the verification procedures associated with trade, such as pre-export clearance, certification, post-arrival inspection and permit systems.

An operations group is concentrating on border operations and a project team is looking at the risk analysis methodology used by both countries, with a view to harmonising systems where possible.

Andrew Matheson says in the long run, both countries stand to benefit from ironing out their differences.

Following meetings last month, the working groups are finalising their programmes and the Consultative Group will shortly update Ministers on progress.

For further information, contact:

Andrew Matheson, International Agreements Manager, MAF Biosecurity Authority, ph 04 474 4219

Contact MPI

for general enquiries phone

0800 00 83 33