Turners & Growers (T&G), the New Zealand fresh produce group, has hit out kiwifruit leader Zespri, labelling the firm “an economic dinosaur”.

On Tuesday (21 July), T&G filed proceedings in Auckland’s High Court, claiming Zespri had illegally abused its dominant market position.

“Zespri is the last remaining fruit monopoly in the world,” said Jeff Wesley, T&G managing director. “It is an economic dinosaur that the World Trade Organisation wants deregulated by 2013, as monopolies distort efficient trade practices.”

In response, Carol Ward, Zespri’s director corporate and grower services, said that the filing was “primarily a publicity stunt” as part of “the T&G / Guinness Peat Group [T&G’s majority owner] campaign to destabilise the kiwifruit industry, announced earlier this year by GPG executive director Tony Gibbs”.

Publicly, Zespri has received support from growers. According to a 2007 survey, 84% of growers were happy with Zespri’s status. But Wesley does not think this is the case.

“Behind the scenes there is growing support for us. Growers won’t publicly come out against the monopoly for fear of victimisation,” he said.

The preliminary hearing is expected to take place within a month.