WTO agreement to eliminate agricultural export subsidies

A World Trade Organisation conference in Kenya has agreed to eliminate the ability of WTO members to subsidise their agricultural exports.

This will benefit New Zealand as we are one of the few major agriculture traders who don’t use subsidies.

NZ Herald reports in Export deal will boost dairy prices, Fonterra says.

Fonterra chairman John Wilson said the historic breakthrough would be good news for dairy farmers.

“For years the use – or even the threat – of export subsidies have resulted in world dairy prices below their true level, reducing returns to dairy farmers,” Wilson said.

It should also help with our meat, wool and other agricultural exports.

A World Trade Organisation ministerial conference held in Kenya and attended by New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay has agreed on the WTO Nairobi package, which will eliminate the ability of WTO members to subsidise their agricultural exports.

That is an outcome successive New Zealand governments have sought for decades, with trade envoys identifying agricultural subsidies, along with tariffs, as one of the biggest obstacles to free trade.

McClay said it had been illegal to subsidise the exports of industrial goods for more than half a century, and it was a major achievement to have that extended to agriculture.

“This outcome directly benefits New Zealand agricultural exporters who have to compete in some markets with subsidised goods.”

New Zealand has led the way in free trade and has become competitive in an uneven playing field. As the rest of the world moves in the same direction our trade will benefit more.

A survey by the Worldwatch Institute last year showed New Zealand’s largely subsidy-free status was not the norm – and that the top 21 food-producing countries paid out an estimated US$486 billion ($722 billion) in farming subsidies in 2012.

China paid US$165 billion in 2012, mostly to support rice and wheat farmers, with Japan paying US$65 billion, the European Union more than US$100 billion and the United States $30 billion.

That’s huge subsidies that will have distorted pricing.

Federated Farmers National President William Rolleston said it was a positive and potentially significant deal. “Given the scale and significance of New Zealand’s agricultural export earnings, the removal of any instrument that can distort market forces and disadvantage our exporters is an important step forward,” he said.

“Achievements at a WTO level also remove the need to develop bilateral solutions with individual trading partners, so we hope there are more deals of this nature to come from the WTO.”

The deal completed a year of important international wins in what have been difficult market conditions for much of New Zealand’s farming sector, he said.

Agricultural production and markets will always have ups and downs, but this should reduce the impact of the downs and boost the returns from the ups.

GCSB watchdog working – inquiry into foreign intelligence activities

Cheryl Gwyn, the GCSB watchdog (Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security) has initiated and announced an inquiry into the way the GCSB undertakes foreign intelligence activities.

It’s good to see Gwyn proactively doing her job. She won’t be able to report publicly on specific details but should assure us in general that her watchdog role is working as it should be.

MEDIA RELEASE

Inquiry into the Government Communications Security Bureau’s process for determining its foreign intelligence activity – 14  May 2015, 3.00pm

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn has commenced an inquiry into the way the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) considers undertaking foreign intelligence activities.

The inquiry is in response to issues recently raised around a Minister of the Crown’s bid to become Director-General of the World Trade Organisation.

“I consider the issues raised about the process followed when the GCSB considers undertaking particular intelligence activity are of sufficient public importance to warrant an own motion inquiry,” Ms Gwyn said.

“While it is unlikely that I will be able to publicly confirm or deny the specific allegations relating to this process, I can inquire more generally into how the GCSB determines, within its statutory constraints, what intelligence activity to undertake and what policies and procedures are in place to regulate its activities.”

The Inspector-General has initiated the inquiry under her own motion powers pursuant to sections 11(1)(a) and (ca) of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1996 rather than in response to a specific complaint.

The following questions frame the inquiry. They relate to the amended Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003 which was not in force at the time of the specific alleged events. In contrast to its predecessor, the amended Act provides explicitly for the safeguards of political neutrality and the involvement of the Commissioner of Security Warrants.

The Inspector-General will approach the inquiry in terms of the following questions:

  • how the GCSB determines whether proposed foreign intelligence activity falls within its statutory functions and within New Zealand’s particular intelligence requirements;

  • whether and how the GCSB assesses the benefits and risks of the proposed activity;

  • where there may be any issue of potential or perceived political advantage, how the GCSB identifies and manages any issue that may arise from its duty of political neutrality; and

  • how the GCSB keeps the responsible Minister(s) and the Commissioner of Security Warrants informed, and ensures effective ministerial oversight, particularly where the proposed activity involves a potentially contested assessment of the international relations and well-being and/or the economic well-being of New Zealand.

“I have notified the Acting Director of the GCSB of my inquiry and she has assured me of the Bureau’s full co-operation,” Ms Gwyn said.

The Inspector-General will provide a report of her broad findings to the public at the conclusion of her inquiry.

Notes:  The Inspector-General’s office will advise of the likely timing of release of the inquiry report once that is known, but the Inspector-General does not expect to make any other public statements on this inquiry until the inquiry is concluded.

About the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security is an independent statutory officer, appointed under warrant by the Governor-General to provide oversight of the GCSB and the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, to assist responsible Ministers in ensuring that those agencies act lawfully and with propriety, and to undertake independent investigation of complaints.

The powers and functions of the office were expanded by legislation in late 2013, and its resources significantly increased, with provision for the appointment of a Deputy Inspector and a standing investigative staff. The Inspector-General’s functions and powers include a requirement to conduct an ongoing programme of review of procedures and compliance systems of the intelligence and security agencies. That review work involves scrutiny of warrants and authorisations that have been granted to each agency by responsible Ministers and the Commissioner of Security Warrants and also more focussed review of particular operational activities and the agencies’ governing procedures and policies.