NZ agriculture groups urge WTO rescue at global forums

Written by Eric Frykberg, Radio NZ

Seven major agricultural organisations are urging the government to use forums like the meeting of global trade and business leaders in Davos, Switzerland, to try to rescue the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and spoke about issues like climate change and New Zealand’s next Budget, the so-called “wellbeing Budget”.

However, the seven bodies – the Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand, the Meat Industry Association, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Horticulture New Zealand, the Horticulture Export Authority, SeafoodNZ and New Zealand Wine Growers – said the government should also rescue the WTO.

Covering almost the entire primary sector, the agricultural group said the appeals process of the WTO could collapse this year due to insufficient judges, which would deprive small countries like New Zealand of important protections against bigger countries that might bend the rules of world trade.

Dairy Companies Association chair Malcolm Bailey said if the problem of appointing judges was not resolved this year, the disputes settlement process would cease to function, rendering the rules New Zealand depended on unenforceable.

The meeting at Davos was a golden opportunity to push this message, he said.

“The US is holding up the appointment of new appellate judges, because of their desire to see reform of a number of things at the WTO,” Mr Bailey said.

“We share some of those areas that need reforming, but at the same time, it is important that we see the WTO dispute resolution system continue to be able to work.

‘It is vital for so many of the trade relationships and it is doubly vital for a small country like New Zealand which does not have huge leverage when it comers to disputes.”

Malcom Bailey said there would be no point in taking a trade dispute in the first place if there was no confidence that any appeal could actually be heard.

He said this would be a grim outlook for the New Zealand erconomy.

Mr Bailey said around 60 percent of Zealand’s total economic activity came from trade, with importing and exporting providing 600 thousand jobs.