AUSTRALIA/NEW ZEALAND: Apple growers protest trade ban
New Zealand apple growers have marched on the national parliament in Wellington and the Australian High Commission, in a protest over an 84 year old trade dispute with Australia, the BBC reported.
Such is the strength of feeling that New Zealand is planning to take its biggest trading partner to the World Trade Organization.
"We have had enough," said John Bostock, leader of the apple growers' protest. "We have had a gutsful of unfair treatment by Australia under our mutual international agreements."
"I think the government has been reluctant to push their nearest neighbour and cousin to the limit, but now they've seen our strength and the strength of feeling and I think they've got the message," he said. Australia banned the import of New Zealand apples in 1921 after an outbreak of fireblight two years previously.
The growers have been trying to overturn that ban ever since. The current attempt began nine years ago, but there has been no decision yet from Australia. A long awaited technical document called the "Import Risk Assessment" has been holding up proceedings.
According to Dr Allan Hawke, Australia's besieged High Commissioner in Wellington, the issue goes both ways. "This is not unidirectional," he said. "There are some issues that Australia has with New Zealand over bananas and honey and a few other issues that we're pursuing with their biosecurity organization."
As the Apple Access group rallies outside Parliament House and "The Beehive" (home to the executive branch of the government) trade minister Phil Goff looked directly on to the protestors below. "We've been waiting now for nine years for an import risk analysis," said Mr Goff. "We know that mature apples are not a vector for fireblight. The Australians know this. This is a disguised protectionist measure and, frankly, people in New Zealand are fast running out of patience to have this issue resolved after so long."
Despite a free trade agreement and almost fraternal blood ties, there is no formal dispute resolution procedure between Australia and New Zealand. So, sensing a turning in the public mood, New Zealand's leaders are taking the issue to the WTO.
In 2003 Japan lost its battle to keep United States apples out - also over fireblight fears, with scientists finding the risk of transmitting fireblight on mature fruit to be 'negligible'.
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