Solid MAF Commitment to Victory at the "Battle of Seattle"

3 December 1999

Dubbed the "Battle of Seattle" by 'The Economist', the opening of the next round of World Trade Organisation trade talks is proving to be just that, in more ways than one.

While violent anti-trade protests make world headlines, the scenes around the negotiating table are also proving a struggle, and victories there are vital to New Zealand's economy.

New Zealand's wish list for Seattle includes trade liberalisation and the elimination of export subsidies. "A freer trading environment for our primary producers would have so many benefits for the New Zealand economy," says Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Director-General, Bruce Ross. "Better trading conditions mean better prices and opportunities for our farmers, processors and exporters, and that means more jobs."

Professor Ross says MAF is committed to progress in this second round of talks and New Zealand's negotiator in Seattle, Trade Minister Lockwood Smith, backed up by the likely incoming minister, Jim Sutton, is supported by comprehensive behind-the-scenes work by staff within MAF and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

"MAF is an integral part of the team in Seattle," says Alan Kerr, the Ministry's Director of International Policy. The Ministry has been closely involved in the development of a negotiating mandate for the agricultural talks. "This mandate will establish the scope of the negotiations and what's on the table," Mr Kerr explains.

"The current Ministerial meeting is the beginning of the process. They're negotiating the agenda for the three years of talks, and it's vital to have the issues New Zealand wants negotiated, on the agenda now. Our major problem is that the products we are good at producing are heavily subsidised by our overseas competitors. A successful round for New Zealand would see a reduction in the subsidised overproduction of agricultural products."

Mr Kerr says agricultural negotiations are definitely on the table, but it's uncertain the extent to which other issues such as biotechnology, sanitary issues and state trading enterprises will be a part of the round of negotiations.

"We are very interested in all of these issues as the way they are addressed could have a profound impact on our food and farm industries."

For New Zealand, as well as the other 17 members of the Cairns Group, the elimination of export subsidies to farmers, a sensitive issue for the European Union, is a primary goal. But Professor Ross says New Zealand has already benefited from the establishment of the WTO five years ago.

The WTO has disputes settling powers and two recent dispute rulings have gone in New Zealand's favour, saving the country tens of millions of dollars, according to Professor Ross.

He cites a recent WTO rejection of a Canadian dairy export subsidy scheme which was a major boost for rural New Zealand. "The positive result of this case complements our goal of obtaining the complete elimination of all agricultural export subsidies in this new round," he says.

"The granting of access for New Zealand spreadable butter to Europe is another example of the WTO flexing its muscle in an effective manner for this country," Professor Ross says.

MAF staff will certainly be contributing their best to the New Zealand team effort in this round of negotiations. For a small country like New Zealand, the rule of international law is vitally important. It is the only effective way we can protect ourselves against trade restrictive behaviour by other member countries. Even small changes in trading conditions can bring large rewards for New Zealand. Our recent success in the WTO settlement process serves to demonstrate this and to emphasise the importance for New Zealand of a good outcome to this three year round of talks.

For further information contact:

Alan Kerr, MAF Director of International Policy ph 04 474-4267



Last Updated: 21 September 2010

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