Members of the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee were in New Zealand last week on a fact-finding mission ahead of the expected green light next month for talks to begin.
Equivalent to the Foreign affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee in the NZ parliament, the committee has no direct role in either negotiating or ratifying the EU’s trade deals but is an adviser to its negotiators.
The views of the MEPs were sought in Wellington by the likes of the Meat Industry Association and Beef + Lamb NZ, eager for insights into the approach the EU would take in the talks expected to get under way early next year.
German MEP and committee chairman Bernd Lange told Farmers Weekly there were sensitivities in agriculture that NZ would have to accommodate in the talks if it wanted a deal.
“For example, in Ireland, the beef producers, they fear competition because they are under threat now.”
Lange said such sensitivities had been present in previous trade deals and could be handled through an expansion of quota as a compromise to NZ’s expected demands for free trade in those products.
Exporters already have access to EU quota for sheep meat, beef and dairy products but trade in the latter two was mostly uneconomic because of the small size of the quotas and high tariffs.
Asked if NZ could hope for a deal without giving way to demands for legal protections for a host of European food names Lange said that was unlikely.
“These geographic indications have the function to protect the production and, of course, not all are relevant to the exchange of goods between NZ and the EU but some of them are relevant.”
In the recently enacted Canada-EU trade deal the Canadians agreed to prohibit the use of 143 European food names such as Roquefort cheese and balsamic vinegar from Modena by producers not from those areas.
But Lange said there could also be a pay-off for NZ producers should a deal be reached on geographic indications in the upcoming talks.
“It is relevant for NZ producers of goods also protecting their trademarks in EU markets.”
Lange said the head of the bureaucracy in Brussels – known as the European Commission – had said talks with NZ would be fast-tracked to be concluded by the end of 2019 when its current term ends.
The commission was expected to ask later this month for the green light from EU member states to begin negotiations with NZ early next year.