Thursday, July 16, 2009

Trip to Brussels and the UK

I’ve recently returned from a 10-day trip to Brussels and the United Kingdom. While it was great to escape the winter gloom here in New Zealand, there wasn’t much time to appreciate the European summer as I had a hectic programme of meetings with politicians, officials, farmers and major buyers of New Zealand goods.

Highlights of the trip included a lengthy meeting that Fonterra Chair Henry van der Heyden and I had with the EU Commissioner of Agriculture, Mariann Fischer Boel.

We covered a wide range of issues from subsidies and New Zealand’s experience of agricultural reform in the 1980s, to climate change and the prospects of resurrecting the Doha round.

I also had the opportunity to meet with my UK counterpart, the Rt Hon Hilary Benn, and Shadow Minister Nick Herbert.

In many ways, the standout event was the chance to attend the Royal Show and to host a New Zealand function there. The Show has been an iconic event on the British rural calendar, but sadly this year was its last.

Nonetheless, it was great to be able to see a cross-section of British agriculture, to meet many farmers and to promote New Zealand agriculture to a wide range of interests.

While much of New Zealand’s focus in recent times has been on developing new markets in Asia, this trip reinforced just how important our long-standing relationship with Europe, and particularly the UK, is. Although we have occasional differences of opinion, we face many of the same challenges and much can be gained from working together.

The trip also demonstrated beyond doubt the importance of integrity of the New Zealand brand. Repeatedly it was made clear to me that European consumers expect New Zealand primary produce to meet the highest standards of sustainability, animal welfare and food safety.

It is a simple equation - if we don’t continue to meet and exceed these expectations, we will lose market share. This is the challenge facing every New Zealand farmer and grower. And it is certainly my focus as the Minister of Agriculture.

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