Parker and Peters split on water tax

The Minister of Trade and the Minister of Foreign Affairs are split over whether a tax on exported water can be imposed without breaching trade agreements.

NZH:  Winston Peters and David Parker at odds over whether export tax breaches trade deals

Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Trade Minister David Parker appear at odds over the legal position of the planned royalty on water exports.

Peters plans to ignore the advice of top officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and will introduce the royalty which was promised in the Labour-New Zealand First coalition agreement.

He said the view of Mfat deputy secretary and chief TPP negotiator that it breaches New Zealand’s trade deals was “an opinion.”

“We are a sovereign nation and you are seeing a restoration of our sovereignty.”

Peters said it was not a foreign policy matter: “It is to do with our domestic economy and who runs our economy and who has propriety over our resources.”

Vangelis Vitalis, Foreign Affairs deputy secretary for the trade and economic group, said today that such payments would breach existing trade agreement.

But Parker backed Vitalis. He told reporters export taxes were prohibited by all of New Zealand’s trade agreements “so we have got to find a remedy that is consistent with those obligations.”

He said he had always known that discriminatory measures that impose tax only on exports would be in breach of virtually every trade agreement we’ve got.”

Labour had campaigned on a non-distortionary price on water including on exports.

“There is more than one way for us to meet our ambition. If we were to have a distortionary tax on the export of water, that would breach our trade agreements.”

The Labour-NZ First coalition agreement simply said:

Introduce royalty on exports of bottled water.

Some interesting differences here, between an election promise and coalition agreement and what is actually allowed under existing international agreements – making promises without doing basic checks first – and also between Parker and Peters.

NZ-Aus ISDS clause already existed

An interesting point from Politik on a an implied improvement in the CPTPP agreement, regarding Investor State provisions with Australia.

Parker’s statement on Sunday said: “It (the CPTPP) preserves New Zealand’s right to regulate in the public interest.

“We have also retained the reciprocal agreement with Australia, which is the source of 80 per cent of our overseas investment from this new grouping, that ISDS clauses will not apply between our countries.

“We continue to seek similar agreements with the other countries in this new Agreement.”

Strictly speaking, Parker is correct. By using the word “retained,” he acknowledges that the agreement not to use the ISDS clauses has been in existence for some time.

That is confirmed in a little-noticed section in the TPP National Interest Analysis produced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in January last year which said: “Consistent with ANZCERTA and the Australia-ASEAN-New Zealand FTA, TPP’s ISDS provisions would not apply between New Zealand and Australia. “

Notice of this was posted as an “associated document” to the TPP on the MFAT website in late 2015.

But speaking in Sydney on November 5, after her meeting with Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared to suggest that the pair had exchanged letters agreeing not to invoke ISDS procedures against each other.

“We discussed a signed letter on the ISDS clauses which we see as being mutually beneficial,” she said.

“That acknowledges our positions on ISDS – at least between each other.”

The exchange of letters (if it was new) was not necessary; MFAT had already established that the ISDS clauses did not apply to Australian investment in New Zealand.

http://politik.co.nz/en/content/foreignaffairs/1231

So despite what was implied by Ardern we have never had an ISDS claim in the past, and the TPP already had an exclusion to ISDS applying between Australia and New Zealand, which amounts to 80% of our overseas investment.

Odd that when in government National hadn’t done more to point this out.

ISDS concerns seem to be much ado about bugger all.

 

TPP now CPTPP, core elements agreed on

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is back on, and has been renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Who the hell thought of that name? But it’s just a long winded name.

RNZ: TPP deal revived once more, 20 provisions suspended

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal remains on track to be agreed by the eleven nations involved.

It has been a tumultuous couple of days for ministers and trade negotiators at Da Nang in Vietnam: 24 hours ago, the deal looked close to collapse, after Canada’s representatives failed to show for a meeting.

A key concern from Canada was reported to be that Malaysia and Vietnam wanted to opt out of requirements for fair workplace laws, including the elimination of child and forced labour.

Speaking to reporters late last night, the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there was “still more important work to be done to ensure we reach the best deal for Canada and Canadian people”.

Everyone wants the best deal for their own countries and people, but they will only reach agreement by compromising.

But more high-pressure talks have brought agreement – in principle – on the “core elements” of a deal.

The officials did it by suspending 20 provisions of the original TPP, some of which related to protecting labour rights and the environment, although most dealt with intellectual property.

Stuff: Renamed TPP ‘a damned sight better’, could be in place in a few months

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made it clear on Saturday that concessions won, particularly on controversial investor-state disputes settlement clauses, had cleared the way for New Zealand to sign.

“This is not a perfect agreement but it is a damned sight better than what we had when we started,’ she told reporters after the leaders’ retreat at the Apec summit in Da Nang, Vietnam.

“It is not perfect, no free trade agreement is. But it’s a lot better than where we were three weeks ago.”

That will please some  but others will never be happy with any trade agreement.

Trade ministers, including New Zealand’s David Parker, issued a statement acknowledging agreement on the core elements of the CPTPP.

They also released a list of “suspended issues”, which were essentially those that had been important to the US.

They can now only be written back into the deal by negotiation – and only by consensus of all the parties – if the US seeks to rejoin, perhaps in the post-President Donald Trump era.

That’s at least three years off. There’s obviously no need for US specific clauses.

That, in theory, means New Zealand can prevent the suspended changes to the ISDS regime from re-entering the agreement.

“If America comes in, it’s not an automatic lifting of those suspended provision … we worked hard to have lifted,” Ardern said.

The agreement would now be taken back to a select committee for the public and Parliament to assess it.

It will be interesting to see how much it is protested this time.

Ardern said New Zealand negotiators had worked hard on the ISDS clauses, which allow corporations to take legal action against host countries in special tribunals.

They have been narrowed in three areas:

* First, they no longer apply to investor screening, so decisions made under the Overseas Investment Act regime, administered by the Overseas Investment office, could not be challenged. Ardern said that was perhaps the most important change.
* Second, anyone who takes up a contract with the government would no longer be able to sue through ISDS provisions but must instead use domestic procedures.
* The third change related to financial services.

Also, a side letter with Australia has ruled out the use of ISDS provisions between the two countries, meaning ISDS does not apply to 80 per cent of foreign direct investment from TPP nations.

A “handful” of other countries have agreed in principle to ISDS side letters. but Ardern said she could not disclose them now.

Ardern said the ISDS provisions in the CPTPP were now similar to previous trade agreements New Zealand has signed, such as with China and Malaysia.

New Zealand had wanted to go further, but she regarded the progress over just a few weeks since she came to office as “a good outcome”.

But New Zealand had now put a line in the sand.

“We will not sign up to future agreements that include those clauses.”

Other suspensions in the new CPTPP included to copyright provisions. The US had achieved a “life plus 70 years” rule, but that would now drop back to the current “life plus 50 years”. That was worth $50 million to $55m a year to New Zealand.

Also, disclosure and administratives rules imposed on drug buying agency Pharmac would now be suspended, which would have cost $5.5m up-front and $2.5m a year.

The remaining hurdles to all 11 CPTPP nations are four outstanding issues, on which negotiation was still required.

They included how long Vietnam had to meet certain labour standards, and the time when Brunei and Malaysia will make changes to restrictions in their oil and gas industries.

The fourth issue applies to Canada, which is arguing for a “culture” carve out – essentially so it can offer bigger subsidies for French-language programming. New Zealand was a supporter of Canada on that issue.

So the CPTPP could take a while yet but looks back on track.

A fresh approach to negotiations with new leadership may have been a good thing for New Zealand.

TPP objection resolved, then talks abandoned

Some bizarre swings in the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations in Vietnam.

On Thursday night  apparent agreement was thwarted by a late objection by Vietnam, but that was resolved during the day on Friday with another leaders meeting due to start at 8 pm on Friday evening.

However Canada refused to attend, so the talks were abandoned, leaving little chance of a resolution alongside the APEC conference, and putting the future of the eleven country

NZH: No deal: How the TPP talks collapsed

The future of TPP has been thrown into doubt after Canada’s sudden refusal to attend the final leaders’ meeting in Danang, Vietnam, which was then cancelled.

The 10 other leaders including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern turned up expecting Canada to be present at 8pm NZ time.

Instead they found Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, holding crisis meetings with Canada’s Justin Trudeau over an undisclosed issue.

Abe returned to the room saying Trudeau was not attending and so the meeting was abandoned by the other countries, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Chile, Peru, Mexico and Vietnam.

The dramas over Canada are not related to the bizarre events of last night in which the TPP deal was declared done by trade ministers, including Canada’s Trade Minister, but Vietnam then objected to a particular issue.

That issue was resolved during the day before the aborted leaders’ meeting.

Trade Minister David Parker said all of Canada’s issues appeared to have been resolved to their satisfaction last night.

“That seemed to change today.”

Parker said New Zealand was surprised at Canada’s sudden change of view and it was not the only country in the room that was. He said Australia was too.

It will be interesting to find out what suddenly turned Canada off the deal after coming close to agreement.

Canada are currently renegotiating the North American trade agreement (NAFTA) with the US and Mexico. Mexico is one of the 11 countries who have been trying to rescue the TPP after President Donald Trump puled the US out of it early this year.

Scathing coverage from Australia. Sydney Morning Herald: Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau sabotages Trans-Pacific Partnership, shocking leaders

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has sabotaged a pact to salvage a multibillion-dollar, 11-nation Pacific Rim trade deal at the last minute, surprising leaders of the other nations, including Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull.

“There were a lot of unhappy leaders left sitting there,” said an official who was in the meeting.

Mr Trudeau’s walk-out is deeply embarrassing for Canada’s Trade Minister Franois-Philippe Champagne, who has agreed to the deal.

Officials expected that the leaders would simply rubber-stamp what had already been agreed by the trade ministers, despite the agreement being unpopular in Canada.

The Australian: TPP: Canada ‘screwed everybody’ after trade talks no-show

CBC News (Canada): ‘Outstanding issues’: Trans-Pacific Partnership faces uncertain future after Trudeau skips leaders’ meeting

A planned meeting of Trans-Pacific Partnership countries was unexpectedly cancelled Friday after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau skipped the event when bilateral talks with his Japanese counterpart ended in disagreement.

A spokesperson for the prime minister said there is simply no consensus between the 11 member countries at this time.

“We made progress but, as we said coming in, there is no rush to conclude. There are outstanding issues for more than one country. One of those countries is Canada. We are working hard for Canadians and Canadian jobs in important industries such as automotive, agriculture, culture and intellectual property,” the spokesperson said.

Trudeau has signalled all week, during his travels in Asia, that Canada is not ready to put pen to paper on the agreement as there are still a number of lingering concerns. “Let me remind everyone Canada will not be rushed into a deal that is not in the best interest of Canada and Canadians,” Trudeau said Wednesday.

I didn’t see that reported here.

Liberal government officials refuted international reports — notably from Australian and New Zealand news outlets — that suggested Canada alone was to blame for delayed TPP talks.

“I can’t really speak for what you might be hearing from other countries,” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters at the summit Friday. “Certainly, my own understanding, our understanding, is that there are a few countries who continue to have some important issues that they’d like to be addressed. And I think that’s reasonable.”

That’s quite different from Australian and New Zealand reports. And this symbolism:

UPDATE from Stuff:  TPP nations ‘have made good progress’ on deal, no-show ‘a misunderstanding’

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) may not be dead in the water just yet, with Canada’s trade minister denying that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deliberately skipped a leaders’ meeting in Vietnam.

François-Philippe Champagne said the 11 remaining nations, which include New Zealand, had “made good progress” on striking a deal, though there was still work to do.

Reuters reported on Saturday morning that the 11 nations had agreed to the core elements of a deal, but still had details to iron out.

Reuters said it had seen a draft of the nations’ final statement, which was due to be released later in the day.

The statement said a “limited set of provisions” from the original deal would be suspended, while further technical work was needed on areas that still needed consensus “to prepare finalised text for signature”. It did not say when that might happen.

A Canadian official said: “We’ve agreed to a framework towards the deal, with work programmes to deal with issues.”

It sounds like it is an evolving situation.

TPP-11 “down to the wire”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is now in Vietnam where Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations are “down to the wire”,  reported to be near agreement but held up at the last minute by one country (not New Zealand).

RNZ earlier today: Ardern: TPP talks down to the wire

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has arrived at the APEC summit saying talks to conclude the Trans Pacific Partnership are “down to the wire”.

Trade ministers of the 11 countries involved, including New Zealand’s David Parker, have been meeting on the sidelines of Apec at Danang in Vietnam.

New Zealand wants to drop the provisions on foreign corporations suing governments using overseas tribunals, but Ms Ardern admitted it had been tough going convincing others.

“I don’t want to predict what way it will go. There are a number of issues still on the table. Not all of them are ours.

“We are pursuing our interests but other countries certainly have their issues they continue to pursue. We of course are continuing to focus on both trying to balance our exporters’ needs but also our country’s.”

Ms Ardern doubted a TPP deal could be be done if if there was no agreement today.

But after apparently getting close to agreement there has been a setback. RNZ: ‘It’s not New Zealand holding up the consensus’ – Parker

The Trans-Pacific Partnership has been put at peril by one country after leaders came achingly close to striking a deal last night.

Officials are now scrambling to revive the stalled trade pact after a series of meetings in Vietnam.

Mr Parker said Labour had got “some of what we wanted” and the issue had been “improved but not completely resolved”.

“We’ve made it clear that for the future we’re not on for [investor-state dispute settlement] clauses.”

Government leaders will resume their talks this evening New Zealand time.

Speaking in Danang, Trade Minister David Parker said ministers thought a deal had been struck when their meeting finished about 10pm on Thursday night.

But in a “somewhat surprising” development, once it was passed on to officials, it emerged one country was still holding out.

“There was celebratory clapping and back-slapping,” Mr Parker said.

“It was then turned over by ministers to officials … and one of the parties said that they had not reached agreement.”

Mr Parker would not name the country responsible, but denied it was either New Zealand or Canada.

“It’s not New Zealand holding up the consensus. We reached agreement.”

Talks will resume this evening (NZ time) to try and get the agreement over the line,

TPP and the coalition of pragmatic change

The new Government has claimed to be a coalition of change, and there will be some significant changes. However the optimism of left wing activists may be tempered somewhat by the levels of pragmatism required in government.

The first mayor example looks like being the Trans Pacific Partnership, forced by a timetable already in place.

Fran O’Sullivan: Eyes of world on our Coalition of Change

The Ardern Administration is displaying considerable pragmatism in its first days in power.

Workarounds have already become the favoured mechanism as Cabinet Ministers marry their wish to deliver on election promises with the realities of running a government.

Ardern is a quick study.

…she was schooled by her predecessor the arch-pragmatist Helen Clark.

Hence, she sucked it up when Turnbull denied her request for New Zealand to settle 150 refugees from Manus Island here.

The more interesting diplomatic gambit was the agreement reached by the two Prime Ministers to use a mutual exchange of letters to guarantee the mechanism for settling investor disputes between companies and governments, instead of the mechanism laid down in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Like the earlier mechanism for achieving a ban on foreigners buying residential houses in New Zealand there is considerable diplomatic and legal craft involved.

Trade Minister David Parker and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters will be outlining these subtle policy shifts when they meet their counterparts in Vietnam ahead of the Prime Minister’s own visit for the Apec Leaders Meeting.

If all goes to plan and the TPP-11 is agreed by the relevant Apec leaders it will be a triumph for Ardern and Parker. They will be able to argue that National did not try hard enough to protect New Zealand’s domestic interests in the TPP negotiations.

Labour had already positioned themselves to push for some protections but also to go with the TPP.

Bloomberg: New Zealand’s PM Sees Benefits for Her Country in the TPP Trade Deal

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her nation would benefit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, indicating she won’t let concerns over dispute resolution clauses scupper the trade deal.

“There are clear benefits for our exporters in this agreement,” Ardern said in an interview in her office in Wellington Tuesday, two days before she travels to the APEC leaders meeting in Vietnam where the Pacific-rim trade pact will be discussed. “New Zealand does not have the access to, for instance, the Japanese market that the Australians do. This would bring benefits to our beef industry, our wine industry, our kiwifruit industry.”

Ardern, whose Labour Party took power last month, has already moved to ban foreign buyers of existing residential property, removing one of the key stumbling blocks to her government signing up to the TPP. She still has concerns about the pact’s investor state dispute settlement clauses, which would allow foreign corporations to sue member states in disputes.

However, Ardern indicated New Zealand may not pursue those concerns at the expense of reaching agreement.

“Our objective has been to raise the issue, to pursue it as far as we’re able,” she said.

Some political gains but also allowing major trade gains to go ahead would be a win-win for Ardern and Labour.

Pragmatism to the forefront and ‘change’ in the background won’t please everyone. Anti-TPP activists will be disappointed, but no one voted for them.

NZ First plans with Russia puts EU trade at risk

A trade concern has emerged out of the coalition agreement between Labour and NZ First that could potentially put future trade opportunities with the European Union at risk.

NZH:  Winston Peters’ plans to reopen trade with Russia raises alarm from Europe

KEY POINTS:

  • Buried detail in Labour-NZ First coalition agreement calls for thawing of relations with Russia, on ice since invasion of Crimea and Ukraine.
  • EU Ambassador critical of move to break ranks on sanctions and warns of consequences for EU-NZ free trade negotiations.
  • Commentators say pursuing policy of warmer relations with Russia would position New Zealand alongside Trump administration.
  • Winston understood to have met several times with Russian ambassador over the past year.

New Zealand First’s plans to reopen trade negotiations with Russia have sparked the new Government’s first international crisis.

The unheralded policy this week drew an unusually forthright and undiplomatic rebuke from European Union ambassador Bernard Savage.

At a briefing on Tuesday in Wellington, Savage said any moves made towards thawing relations with Russia would be viewed in a “very negative” light.

The policy, written into the Labour-New Zealand First coalition agreement at the urging of the smaller party, risks harming relations with one of our largest trading partners in order to enhance those with one of our smallest.

According to 2016 figures the European Union is our third-largest trading partner with a total of $20 billion in imports and exports each year, while two-way trade with Russia currently amounts to only $417 million.

Savages told those attending that reactivating the stalled Russia deal – suspended since 2014 – would complicate New Zealand’s efforts later this year to secure a free trade deal with the EU.

This will take some careful managing by the Government. It is complicated by split responsibilities between Labour (David Parker as Minister of Trade) and NZ First (Winston Peters as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

This is on top of conflicting aims between Labour and the Greens on the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Ardern’s dilemma, TPP-11 or TPP-0

One of the biggest tests for new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Labour led Government is dealing with the Trans Pacific Partnership that, renegotiated after the withdrawal of the US, is referred to as TPP-11.

Labour have long insisted changes needed to be made before they would support the TPP, but the reality of trying to secure a major trade agreement that includes Japan makes it a tricky situation.

Japan has threatened that if New Zealand tries to restart negotioations then TPP-0 is likely.

RNZ report:

Ms Ardern also said the government would try to find a solution on foreign home buyers before she left for the APEC meetings next week.

She said if the government was able to find the right mechanism, it could legislate against purchases of existing properties by non-residents before the TPP trade deal is ratified.

Ms Ardern told Morning Report that would remove one of the government’s main stumbling blocks to signing the TPP, and that would then allow the government to focus on dispute settlement provisions in the trade deal.

Also:  Labour softening on TPP clauses, says critic

A critic of the Trans Pacific Partnership says Labour has softened on a provision to allow foreign investors to sue governments even though its coalition partners have spoken out about it.

New Zealand First and the Greens have questioned the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) schedule in the original TPP and the updated TPP-11 which excludes the United States.

The settlement provisions allow a corporation to take legal action against a foreign government for introducing legislation that harms their investment or profits.

But the government was missing a crucial opportunity ahead of APEC next week, said Auckland University law professor Jane Kelsey.

It was disappointing that Labour stepped back from the criticism it had that the economics of the agreement did not stack up, Professor Kelsey said.

“[The government] seems willing to proceed now with the agreement largely unchanged and indeed possibly unchanged at all if they can get through their ban on foreign investment in residential housing under the existing wording,” she said.

Kelsey has always strongly opposed the TPP.

NZH: David Parker targets trade deal and bar on house sales to overseas buyers

New Trade Minister David Parker is considering advice that an explicit ban on house sales to offshore speculators could be acceptable under the TPP trade deal if it is passed into New Zealand law before the trade deal comes into force.

TPP negotiators from 11 countries, including New Zealand, are meeting in Tokyo today to try to finalise preparations for the TPP leaders’ summit in mid November, which Jacinda Ardern will attend.

With President Donald Trump having withdrawn the US from the deal in January, the entry-into-force provision has to be changed.

Parker would not comment on whether that should be a simple majority of TPP11 countries or whether it must also include Japan – which has taken over leadership of TPP since the US withdrawal.

“We must find a solution to allow us to ban overseas buyers of existing New Zealand homes for us to proceed with TPP11,” Parker said. “We are open-minded as to where that solution sits, whether it sits within TPP or outside of TPP.”

Parker said New Zealand officials in Tokyo were also raising the issue of the Government’s opposition to Investor-State Dispute Settlement [ISDS] clauses, although his language around expectations of success on that issue was soft.

“We don’t want the ISD provisions applying to us and so we will be instructing our negotiators to use their best endeavours to fix that.”

It is clear that the issue on which there will be no compromise is the ban on house sales.

“I want to leave Apec assured that we are not trading away the right of New Zealanders to ban foreign buyers of our homes.”

“There are undoubted trade benefits in TPP11. They are obviously not nearly as significant as they were when the US was part of the deal but nonetheless a residue is still important, particularly into Japan.

“But if I was forced to trade between the principle of protecting New Zealanders’ rights to have control over who owns our houses and TPP, which I hope we will not be forced to choose between, then our promise in respect of who buys New Zealand homes will prevail,” he said.

“I am reasonably confident that we can avoid that binary choice.”

Nikkei Asian Review:  ‘TPP 11’ faces new challenges as clock ticks down

New Zealand’s demand for renegotiation could obliterate tenuous agreement

Chief negotiators from the 11 remaining TPP nations are preparing to meet outside Tokyo starting Monday, hoping to hammer out a general agreement early next month in Vietnam on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

But New Zealand, a leading proponent of the “TPP 11” effort, suddenly seems to be wavering. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who took office Thursday, has pledged to renegotiate the trade deal, seeking restrictions on foreign real estate investment.

…if Ardern holds to her demand for a renegotiation, momentum toward an agreement could crumble. The 11 nations already agreed not to alter the original terms of the pact, and “if exceptions are made for New Zealand alone, the whole thing will fall apart,” said an official at Japan’s trade ministry.

Some in Tokyo advocate simply removing New Zealand from the group, a solution that would reduce the amount of milk Japan imports under the deal. But such a step would be difficult given that New Zealand is a founding member of the TPP.

“The only option is to convince them not to renegotiate,” said an official in Japan’s Cabinet Secretariat.

Ardern and Parker seem to be trying to find a way to enforce the one thing they are left trying to insist on, a ban of foreign ownership, without sinking the whole agreement.

TPP-11, TPP-10 (minus NZ), or TPP-0?

Q+A – environment debate

All of Q+A this morning will be a debate on the environment.

The way we care for our environment has emerged as a key election issue – especially the state of some of our polluted waterways. Q+A has an hour long environment debate with 7 candidates on Sunday. Which party wins your environment vote?

Scheduled to take part:

  • David Parker (Labour Party) – Spokesperson for Environment, Water
  • Scott Simpson (National Party) – Minister for the Environment
  • James Shaw (Green Party) – Spokesperson for Climate Change
  • Marama Fox (Maori Party)
  • David Seymour (ACT Party)
  • Damian Light (United Future Party)
  • Winston Peters (NZ First Party) – Spokesperson for everything

Denis O’Rourke is the NZ First spokesperson for climate change and also for the Environment but has been shunted down to 13 on their party list. Peters has chosen to take part in a debate for a change.

An Ashburton farmer on vitriol and inconsistency in the water debate

David Clark, an Ashburton farmer, on hatred, vitriol, water tax, and farming’s contribution to the rural based economy:


It really saddens me to hear and read to the hatred and vitriol that been brought into this election campaign and I am very concerned at the rift between urban and rural and the disconnection between food production and our population.

We live in a nation of low unemployment, a world standard low cost health system, a no-fault accident compensation scheme, social welfare and pension provisions. We have an extraordinary high degree of food security in this country.

I live in a district whose main town has virtually the lowest unemployment in New Zealand. We have a vibrant, multi-cultural community that offers a wide range of employment opportunities and a very high level of community facilities. This is much transformed town that come out of the ‘80’s with its tail firmly between its legs.

Ashburton is a town that has been transformed in the last 25 years; this is a town that has been transformed by the development of irrigation, both in arable and dairying land uses. This district grows over half of the world’s carrot and radish seeds along with a wide variety of other crops exported worldwide. We produce 8% of the National Dairy production.

I am an arable farmer using irrigation to grow seed crops that are exported worldwide and grain and vegetable crops for domestic food consumption as well as finishing lambs for NZ butchers and export.

We first put irrigation on in ’98 and then in 2011 installed pivots to achieve more efficient water use and lower leaching than the older irrigators we had originally operated, at a cost of well over $1 million. We did that voluntarily because it increased our production, reduced our water use and significantly reduced our environmental footprint, however we could only justify that expenditure because our business was bankable.

Our business proudly supports local firms for the provision of goods and services and like our fellow farmers, most of the gross income is spent in the local community and profit, if any is largely reinvested in our business via local firms.

We operate our tractors on GPS guidance, running at 20mm accuracy to reduce overlap, our fertiliser spreader is GPS controlled and records all applications to a geo-spacial map, our combine weighs every kg of crop and overlays that data onto a map so we can track inputs and outputs accurately here as a result of investment in technology. It is investment in this technology that is achieving improvements in our environmental footprint.

On Friday night I attended a public meeting to hear Labour Water Spokesperson David Parker present his proposal for a tax on irrigation water. His presentation was headed by “How did we get to this?” and showed a series of photos from around New Zealand of environmental degradation caused by agriculture. The photos showed practices that are unacceptable for sure, no argument about that, but a selective portrayal of the worst of the worst in my view.

At not one point did I hear any positive comment of the actions of the farming community in NZ. But interestingly none of the photos depicted anything in Mid Canterbury, had nothing to do with arable agriculture and only one shot of Coe’s Ford after three years of drought had any connection to irrigation. There was only one photo of a degraded urban waterway and that was one that Federated Farmers had provided to Mr Parker earlier in the day and challenged him to display.

The purpose of the meeting and continuation of his presentation was to explain the Labour Party’s intention to impose a tax on irrigation in NZ with the intent of using the money raised to repair environmental damage.

The missing part of this logic was that his slide show did not depict irrigation as the cause of the degradation and this is confirmed by a report by Irrigation NZ that shows there is no correlation between areas of high irrigation development and regions with poor water quality in NZ.

So why tax irrigation? And Irrigation predominately in Canterbury and Otago that are regions with good water quality?

I listened to the proposal and wondered why, if using a public resource for private profit was so villainous, why would a food producer using irrigation be taxed, but a soft drink company abstracting water from the Auckland Municipal supply be exempt? I heard the argument popular in Ashburton about export water bottlers, but if the bottling company pumped from their own well, they would be captured by this tax, however if the plant connected onto the local Council reticulated supply, their export activity would be water-tax free.

I sat in the meeting heard a whole lot of vitriol and bitterness extended towards the agricultural community and I reflected on the fact that it was August 18th and that night our monthly bills would be paid and a not insignificant sum would be transferred to local businesses, local businesses that the attendees relied on for either direct or indirect employment or for taxation to fund their social payments. The receipts from our production re-cycle many times through our local community, and I’m pleased about that.

I reflected on the reality that in the last ten years a qualified tradesman in Ashburton could pretty much name their charge out rate or hourly wage on the back of rapid development, both urban and rural, largely, virtually entirely, whether direct or indirect, on the back of the productivity achieved irrigation in the Ashburton District.

This is a town where professionals view their income earning potential as better than in large cities, a town that offers an unemployment rate equal to the lowest in the country. A town with a man-made lake providing a housing location and leisure facility for all; a lake that is packed on any summer’s afternoon.

We have a town with a new art gallery; and a new aquatic centre costing $35m. A fantastic complex on which the paint was hardly dry and some around the town were grizzling that it needed the addition of a Hydro Slide for the children.

I listened to the anti-farming vitriol, and heard how they believed that we were stealing water and the town folk saw no benefit. Every dollar we earn is re-cycled into our local community, the employment generated by our business, direct or indirectly is significantly higher than it was in 1994 when we moved to a dryland sheep farm running 2,000 ewes.

A theme, which seems to be propagated at present by the Left is that Water Quality is a Rural problem, and therefore of Agricultural origin.

I accept that farming has an environmental footprint; no doubt, I also accept that practices need to and will change. In my view, technology and regulation will go hand in hand to solve those problems. Interestingly the three key policies that David Parker said he would implement are already in place by way of the Canterbury Land and Water Plan and he congratulated the National Government appointed Commissioners at ECan on introducing a robust water management framework.

But I don’t think that is the end of the debate. We regularly swim with our children in the river that bounds our farm; in fact I would happily drink it. I, along with thousands of others enjoy recreation in Lake Hood which is fed by the Ashburton River.
But the media and the Left would portray our rivers as dangerously polluted and degraded.

In comparison, I cannot swim in the Avon or Heathcote, nor the Christchurch Estuary which are subjected to storm water flows, overflows from the sewer network, seepage from broken sewers and heavy metals and petroleum contamination, which at times are several hundred times safe levels. Sure Christchurch has been devastated by the earthquakes, but the pollution of these urban waterways long pre-date the earthquake.

I would look forward to the day we can safely swim in the Avon adjacent to Oxford Terrace.

We hear much of the risks of the Ruataniwha Dam, but overlook the reality that the Hawke’s Bay’s two cities pump their sewerage out in the bay. Invercargill City is currently arguing in the Courts to renew its consent to discharge sewerage into four waterways including a lagoon.

In the Hutt Valley the sewerage system has contaminated an aquifer and will likely require the long term chlorination of the local water supply.

I grew up in South Auckland and enjoyed swimming at their most magnificent beaches during summer. The situation now is that one million cubic metres of sewerage and wastewater pours into the harbour every year regularly requiring the beaches to be closed to swimmers.

Two summers ago we stopped for lunch at a public picnic table looking out to Lion Rock at Piha. As our children walked across the mown grass their shoes turned green from the septic tank leachate oozing from the ground. Their shoes and the whole area stank; it sure didn’t do much for our appetite.

Yet the Left are silent on urban water quality issues, best not scare the voters with any suggestion they may need to fund the upgrade of their own effluent disposal system. It is far more politically expedient to poke the borax at farmers. We all have a footprint on this planet, and poor water quality has many causes and we are all responsible for the many solutions. Taxing only one group is not that solution.

Across New Zealand we are covering much of our elite food producing soils with the ongoing march of urban sprawl, permanently removing this land from production. Surely mankind cannot have more of a footprint that covering food producing soil with concrete.

In our world, we are challenged to produce food at the lowest price in the world. We do so by employing world leading technology to be some of the most efficient producers on the planet. Why would I say the cheapest in the world? Well, if we are not, the manufacturers and supermarkets will turn and import the ingredients quickity-split.

You see, as much as we talk about providence of supply and country of origin, animal welfare and environmental footprint, the brutal reality it that the vast bulk of consumers purchase the grocery item that the supermarket has a “special” tag attached to and couldn’t give two-toots as to where it came from or what standards it conformed to.

Our family has proudly farmed continuously in various parts of NZ for 140 years; I am but a caretaker and would hope that at least one of my children might take our family forward as food producers. It is in our very best interests to ensure that this property is in better condition for the next generation than when I began my stewardship.

I have listened to the hatred, I have read the posts on social media riping into farmers and it saddens me. This is a very nasty election campaign and I hope it is not a reflection on society as a whole.

It is a wet Sunday afternoon and I have stock to check on, best get my wet weather gear back on and get cracking.

David Clark.

As posted on Facebook