PM firm as NZ apple veto fails

Countryman

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has warned against putting up trade barriers or taking “populist positions” as the Australian economy is buffeted by global factors.

Last month, after major manufacturer BlueScope Steel laid off 1000 workers, Ms Gillard told the Labor caucus the Government would do all it could to support jobs.

But challenged by Senator Doug Cameron, a former manufacturing union boss, to do more to protect industry and ensure that Australian companies were given a greater chance at winning mining-related contracts, Ms Gillard told the caucus the solution was not to “retreat into protectionism” or become “anti foreign investment”.

The Prime Minister also took a shot at Opposition leader Tony Abbott, saying that it was important not to take “easy populist positions” when it came to economic management.

She pointed to a bill proposed by the Nationals, but withdrawn last Monday, to give the parliament a veto over New Zealand apple imports in the wake of a decision to allow them into Australia.

Mr Abbott told the coalition joint parties room the bill had been withdrawn because the Opposition had received advice that it was not “World Trade Organisation compliant”.

“At the end of the day we have to be economically responsible and we cannot pursue short-term political gain at the expense of the long-term national interest that Australia has as a trading nation, ” he said.

Biosecurity Australia made its final determination on allowing NZ apple imports last month. It follows the release of a draft report in May and a November ruling by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that Australia should remove import restrictions.

The ruling ended a 90-year blockade against New Zealand pipfruit.

The first NZ apples arrived on the eastern seaboard in recent weeks but farmers in southern Australia continue to pressure state governments and supermarkets to discourage their sale.

They maintain the apple imports pose a risk of fruit diseases including fire blight, leaf curling midge and European canker, which are problems in New Zealand but not Australia.

Melbourne fruiterer Tony Ansaldo said this week that the New Zealand apples were a little slow to sell but that consumers supported the imports because they provided shoppers with more choice.

Victorian MPs were reported to be seeking legal advice on a statewide ban on New Zealand pipfruit — chiefly growers of apples, pears and nashi — in line with similar moves in South Australia and Tasmania.

More than 30 per cent of WA’s 35,000 tonnes annual apple crop is sent across the Nullarbor and WA growers are concerned not only about NZ apples coming into WA but that their eastern states markets could be lost to cheaper Kiwi imports.

WA fruit grower John Sheehan said the move to import NZ apples would put more pressure on WA growers.

“Our (WA) market is so small that if we get Kiwi apples here, we’ll be gutted, ” he said.

Fruit West general manager Gavin Foord said WA’s strict quarantine laws meant Kiwi exporters would find it difficult to crack the market.

“From a local perspective we need to be sharpening the marketing of our own product and grow the best crop we can and explore other markets, ” he said.

“We also implore people to be parochial about what fruit they buy and eat local produce.”

Apple and Pear Australia Limited chairman John Lawrenson said Biosecurity Australia had abandoned Australian growers.

“The measures adopted in the final policy and determination for the importation of New Zealand apples are horrendously weak and we are extremely concerned that the three pests recognised as major risks to our biosecurity won’t be controlled to the degree the industry requires, ” he said.

Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman said: “This is a Federal Government decision but the standard for apples coming into WA has not changed as a result of it.

“The standards in our State are higher and stricter than those that exist in any other State because of WA’s unique disease-free status.”

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails