Geographical Indications are among the sensitive issues for NZ in free-trade talks with EU

Trade  Minister  Damien  O’Connor  has  revived hopes  that  New Zealand  can  land  a free  trade  agreement  with the  UK  this  year  and another one subsequently  with  the  EU, following  his just- concluded  mission  to  European capitals.

Farm lobbies  had  not been  confident   when  he  set  out.  In  the case  of the  UK  we had been beaten to the punch by  Australia.

It  seemed  unlikely  NZ  could  get  anything better  than their  Australian counterparts  who  appeared willing to  accept  a  long  phaseout on duties  on,  in particular,  most farm products, including dairy.

Since then Australia  has  entered  the  AUKUS  pact,  which  particularly  riled France’s President Macron because Australia’s decision to  acquire  nuclear submarines  from the US   meant cancellation of  a  previous  (very expensive)  deal to  buy French   diesel-powered submarines.

So  one  of  the major thrusts of  O’Connor’s  mission  became advancing  free trade negotiations with the EU.

On  his  return  to Wellington, O’Connor said a deal would be great for NZ He  told  RNZ he would like to see an agreement “in principle” by the end of the year.

“Look, it’s a market of 450 million people. They’re all discerning high value customers for both services, technology and of course for our traditional meat, dairy and sheep meat products. So, you know, this is  a valuable market and will be into the future.”

A sensitive issue in discussions has been the EU’s desire to protect over 2000 food and beverage ‘Geographical Indications’.

The dairy industry here said it is open to changing the labelling on some products to make the country of origin clear – but it is unwilling to stop using cheese names like feta and gruyere.

O’Connor said it is likely changes will need to be made – but he wouldn’t venture how far they would go.

“The transition period and, and how much they have to change ultimately will be part of the final agreement and, and I guess the ability for the exporters to accommodate that. I think the dairy industry is aware of that. But overall, we’re wanting to ensure that the trade deal offers more opportunities for the NZ dairy industry, even with changes that might be necessary.”

The UK has signalled it was prepared to eliminate tariffs on NZ honey, wine and apples. That’s  good –  but most  NZ  farmers  won’t  be  happy with  the  kind of  limits on key products of the kind accepted  by Australia.

Access for NZ dairy and red meat is certainly  proving contentious, with  UK  farming  lobbies noisily opposing   the  Australia-UK  deal,  even   with  the  phase-out  over  five years of tariffs  on dairy products.  NZ  farmers  will be  relying  on  the  team of  NZ  negotiators  to  do better  than  the  Australians.

O’Connor  previously  had  negotiated  with  the then UK  trade  minister Liz Truss, who has  since been promoted to  become  Foreign Secretary.  On his just- concluded  mission  O’Connor made  a  point  of talking with  new UK Secretary of State for International Trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan about the pending UK-NZ free trade deal.

An agreement in principle was supposed to be signed by the end of August – O’Connor said things always pop up at the last minute, so it is taking longer than expected.

“We’ve made good progress, It’s been a very short timeline for what is the substantive issue in a potentially hugely valuable trade deal with a trusted partner”, O’Connor  says.

How  far  the Johnson government  will  go  with  NZ after  being so badly bruised by farmer reaction to the UK-Australian FTA, especially in traditional Conservative-voting electorates,   still  appears to be hanging   in the balance.

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