Tony Nowell is president and co-owner of Douglas Nutrition and has experience in the international and primary FMCG industries.
OPINION: Here in our little corner of the world, the story of David and Goliath still resonates. The idea that you can be small and find a way to get by is reassuring.
We trade. This supports our economy and we pay for the goods and services we import from abroad by selling exports to other countries. Essentially, it’s our blood.
But we also know that trading means dealing with much larger entities, moving targets and tricky traders. We are acutely aware of the number of ways we could take a sharp elbow or a knockout.
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New Zealand’s trade officials and exporters have done everything we can to reduce the precariousness and, where we can, find a solid and lasting basis for our trade.
A good example is the government’s recent signing of a trade agreement with the European Union. Deals like these are incredibly difficult to make and, while not beneficial to everyone, do take an incredible amount of hard work to get them over the line.
And in the midst of these agreements, we have largely matched our discussions on free trade in equities and have a very open economy with few barriers for anyone who wants to bring in goods and services.
But our exporters can encounter obstacles in many places. What helps us overcome these obstacles is an agreed system of legally enforceable trade rules, binding economies large and small.
These rules give our exporters a better and fairer chance. We have constantly used them to make our argument, which has been and remains essential: let’s all play on an equal footing.
At each point of difficulty, we were able to turn to the established rules of engagement. And by developing and expanding those rules of engagement, we were able to come to the table and design ways of operating that are fair and good for everyone involved.
In the David and Goliath storyline, this rules-based system is our slingshot. It’s hard to think of a circumstance that would change things so much that we would consider giving it up.
And it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which we would be willing to risk not having this very substantial help to keep our doors open and our trade flowing.
It gave us the chance to shine. But, on our current course and alongside new trade agreements signed with foreign governments, this may no longer be the case, and this is what could be at risk if we continue to ban live animal exports.
It’s hard to see the ban as anything other than a violation of a basic rule of trade, namely Article XI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The ban clearly presents itself as New Zealand’s erection of a non-tariff barrier to trade, of the type against which we have so assiduously negotiated historically.
Under current guidelines, the agreement prohibits restrictions (other than taxes) on the import and export of goods destined for the territory of any other contracting state, among other guidelines.
Prohibiting or restricting trade goes against the general rule of international law, according to which a State cannot invoke its national law (whether law, regulation or rules) to avoid or circumvent its obligations under an international treaty.
These prohibitions and restrictions are exempted under Article XX of the GATT, when necessary to protect public morals or human, animal or plant life and health.
It is difficult to see how the “values-based approach” identified in the MPI documents related to the ban is grounded in public morals.
As a ‘values-based approach’, it does not implicitly rely on evidence or technical information that would demonstrate a need for the protection of animal life and health (compared to alternative approaches). A values-based approach is clearly a non-tariff barrier to trade.
There are permitted exceptions to this prohibition, but they relate to the protection of public morals or the health of people, animals or plants.
Could the risk of death while traveling constitute such a scenario?
If your only familiarity with the live animal export trade is news reports of a tragedy at sea a few years ago, you might feel that this is a clear and present danger. But the full data tells an entirely different story, namely that the incidence of death during the journey takes place at rates significantly lower than those recorded on New Zealand farms.
Some might also argue that live animal exports are contrary to public morals in that they amount to inhumane treatment. But again, proper scientific assessment, of which there is now a substantial body, tells a different story.
Science shows and confirms that live animal export trips to New Zealand achieve high standards of care. This reflects the position of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the world’s expert authority on the matter.
The OIE has reviewed the latest scientific and technical information and found that the export of live animals, properly applied and implemented, can be humane and safe.
Basically, if the aims of the ban are to protect and improve animal welfare standards, evidence and data indicate that this can be achieved by other more effective means.
Indeed, New Zealand animal exporters have put forward such a proposal: a global best practice system, a benchmark for animal care in the livestock export trade that goes further than the government has ‘ever done with regulatory oversight, exceeding current international best practice, with veterinarians on board every voyage, and robust and comprehensive reporting systems and processes throughout.
There is more to consider.
Banning livestock export trade could also cause us to default on the obligations that New Zealand has undertaken to support the Sustainable Development Goals, and specifically the food security requirements of trading partners.
Similarly, the significant investments made by trading partners to receive New Zealand live animal exports, for the purpose of raising their own herds for food security purposes, could be jeopardized, which would arguably constitute a violation. of our obligations.
Where does this lead us? Potentially in a very precarious position.
This potentially leads other countries to adopt unpredictable and arbitrary approaches: non-tariff barriers, technical barriers, rule violations.
When we follow the rules, we can credibly say that other countries should do the same.
When we abandon them, we remain unprotected.
New Zealand livestock exporters have watched the development of this problem with growing concern and have repeatedly called on the government to take heed.
But in vain. What once seemed like a danger no one would dare approach looks a little more like a collision course every day.
It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be.