An Open Letter to Trade Minister O’Connor

We write this open letter to express the strong support of the New Zealand business community for ambitious outcomes at the Twelfth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference (“MC12”).

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Food Security in the Asia-Pacific Region

by | Jan 14, 2021 | Trade In The News | 0 comments

APEC BUSINESS ADVISORY COUNCIL

KEYNOTE SPEECH TO APEC WEBINAR ON THE PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS AND INFORMATION-SHARING

2 DECEMBER 2020, RACHEL TAULELEI, ABAC NZ

Tēnā koutou katoa

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak at this seminar on public-private partnerships and information-sharing on food security in the Asia-Pacific. 

My warm thanks in particular to our kind hosts, Japan.   Japan’s leadership on regional economic integration in the Asia-Pacific is strongly valued by New Zealand.   The case to work collaboratively together to respond to the pandemic and to rebuild our economies is a compelling one, and we welcome Japan’s engagement and energy.

I have the honour and privilege to serve as the incoming Chair of the APEC Business Advisory Council, or ABAC, for next year.

ABAC has always been a champion of sustainable and inclusive growth in our region. 

Food security is clearly fundamental to achieving that goal. 

We cannot realise the full potential of our human capital, or indeed attain lasting prosperity, unless everyone has access to sufficient, safe, nutritious and affordable food.

To speak of the role of the private sector and PPFS.

The private sector, working in partnership with policymakers, is a key actor in this important effort.  

And the Policy Partnership on Food Security, including workshops such as this one, offers us a critical channel for the public and private sector to engage together on practical steps we can take to enhance food security. 

Indeed, it is ABAC’s firm belief that we need to look at these complex issues from the “whole of system” perspective. 

Policymakers make a valuable contribution to solving these issues, of course – but we also need to take into account the views of farmers – big and small – as well as food processors, food distributors, exporters and importers. 

The supply side of the food equation is, quite simply, impossible without the private sector. 

It is no surprise, therefore, that the private sector wants to help shape the new Roadmap  for Food Security and play its full part in implementing a refreshed APEC Food System. 

And creating a vibrant, dynamic food environment around the region will of course help enable innovation, productivity and investment which are essential to meeting the food security challenges of the future.  

The challenge of food security is urgent

That is more than important than ever, since achieving food security has become an increasingly urgent and complex task.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen impacts on production, distribution and trade in agriculture and food. 

We have experienced huge disruption across different food sectors and throughout the food value chain.  For example, meat processing plants in many economies have had to contend with worker illness and social distancing requirements, horticulture sectors in many economies have struggled to find labour, ports have been disrupted and food service sectors such as restaurants and school cafeterias have been shuttered.

But even before COVID, we had been facing a raft of challenges to achieving our goal of ensuring safe, sufficient and affordable food for everyone, including the most vulnerable. 

These include feeding a growing population, low crop yields, inadequate infrastructure, food loss and waste through the supply chain, protectionism and market distortions, and the increasingly disruptive impacts of climate change.

There is opportunity in the Putrajaya Vision and new Food Security Roadmap.

And colleagues, we have an important opportunity to get this right.  

Our Leaders have just agreed the Putrajaya Vision for the future of our region.

As part of building back better from COVID, we have a real chance to put the ideas of the Vision into practice to achieve food security.

Many elements of the Vision point to the kind of food system that ABAC first championed over twenty years ago. 

We are of course currently engaged in trying to refresh the food system with a new Roadmap to ensure that the system stays relevant and fit for purpose. 

If we could design and fully implement a robust APEC Food System consistent with the Putrajaya Vision, that would take us a very long way towards achieving durable food security.

I would accordingly like to reflect on what the Putrajaya Vision can offer us by way of guidance.

First, as their overarching concept for the Vision, Leaders have called for “an open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful Asia-Pacific community.”

Very obviously, if people in the region do not have their most basic needs met, that makes it very difficult to achieve a resilient or a peaceful community – let alone a dynamic one. 

So, it is clear that food security is fundamental to achieving the Vision.  Or to put it another way, the Leaders have given us a mandate to get this right. 

Leaders also envision “a free, open, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent and predictable trade and investment environment.”

To achieve this, they go on to highlight the need for “support for the WTO, and for “seamless connectivity” in the region.

All of these elements of the Putrajaya Vision underscore the central role of well-functioning supply chains and trade as a critical ingredient.

Food trade helps match up supply and demand across the region.  It means that essential food supplies can get to where they are needed most – as indeed we have seen demonstrated in real time this year.

COVID-19 has also shown us the importance of keeping supply chains functioning optimally.  If supply chains do not connect, the whole system unravels. 

New Zealand, along with Japan and a number of other APEC economies, has been a leader on this.    We need to make sure that both the goods and services and people-movement aspects of supply chains can operate safely, efficiently and smoothly.

Food trade also means that, even where food production in one economy faces external shocks, our region overall is resilient enough to ensure that nobody goes hungry.  So, for example, climate change is likely to mean that at times production will be disrupted by droughts, floods or rising temperatures.   With food trade, we can still rely on our neighbours around the Asia-Pacific – the APEC “rice bowl” or “bread basket”, if you like – to ensure that we can feed our communities.    

And of course, for many of our economies in the region, food exports give us a way to leverage our comparative advantage in agriculture to earn our living through trade.  Secure incomes and economic growth are just as important for food security as is the food itself.

Building strong foundations for food trade is a central role for trade, and ABAC believes that it is crucial to build strong foundations for the way food moves across borders. 

That means getting rid of unjustified export restrictions, reducing or eliminating tariffs and non-tariff barriers, trying to reduce distortions in production, and enhancing transparency in food production, distribution and trade flows. 

At a practical level, enhancing the digital facilitation of trade will help supply chains to work better – for example through the universal acceptance of e-certificates, the use of global data standards, or through region-wide adoption of digital Single Windows.  

Another important practical step would be to implement a mechanism to identify and resolve non-tariff barriers to food trade.  This could be based on the Cross-Cutting Principles for Non-Tariff Measures developed by ABAC and then taken up by APEC Leaders a few years ago.

Finally, it is also vital for APEC to tackle the root cause of trade distortions by committing to  a meaningful cut in trade-distorting domestic support in agriculture.  This is a core element in ABAC’s WTO Statement this year, which we have shared with Leaders in our annual Report.

On the issue of food safety, given the importance of safe and nutritious food in the face of the pandemic, it is also clear that we must prioritise good frameworks in food safety. 

There, too, our Leaders have given us some valuable guidance.

The Putrajaya Vision talks about “shared responsibility, mutual respect, common interest and common benefit

That is of course a very lofty goal – but it applies just as strongly to food safety as to other areas of our shared endeavour.

ABAC considers that policymakers could more actively share regional best practices on food safety, including around traceability and sanitary practices.

We should also take active steps to reduce food loss and waste across the food value chain, both through education and through investing in cold chain and other essential infrastructure within and across economies.

Turning our mind to Digital…

Within the Putrajaya Vision, Leaders called for “an enabling environment that is supported by the digital economy and innovation, noting that this would unlock “productivity and dynamism”.

If there is one silver lining in the pandemic, it is that this year has demonstrated the huge potential of digitalisation – including for food security.

Digital tools for precision agriculture help farmers to become more efficient and supply chains to become more resilient and lower cost.  Smart farming can also mean that agriculture treads more lightly on the planet. 

That helps with the challenges of low yields, environmental sustainability and inadequate infrastructure.

E-commerce and digital payments systems enable farmers and producers to connect directly with consumers. That can unlock opportunities for small-holders, small agri-food businesses, women and indigenous communities. 

In New Zealand, for example, Māori communities are deeply engaged in food and agriculture production and are starting to make use of e-commerce platforms to realise significant value from trade.

In ABAC’s view, this all points to the need to prioritise further investment in digital infrastructure and capacity-building.  

In time, that will allow us to make greater use of innovative technologies such as the Internet of Things, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, cognitive computing and blockchain.  These tools can unlock even greater productivity gains and value-chain efficiency for all.

ABAC recognises the importance of transparency in production, consumption and trade. 

Digital tools are of course crucial to this, too.  If we are able to utilise real-time data, we can track fluctuations in production and trends within and across markets more effectively.  That helps to anticipate future food supply disruptions and needs. 

So the work of Japan in promoting information exchange and knowledge-sharing through the Asia-Pacific Information Platform is very valuable.

Within sustainability including climate change…

Coming back again to the Putrajaya Vision, Leaders have agreed to promote approaches that “comprehensively address all environmental challenges.

ABAC sees sustainable or even regenerative approaches to production – taking into account water, soil, carbon and waste – as crucial to our future.

This is not just about satisfying consumer demand for more “sustainable” food – although of course we can create value by leveraging particular product attributes and meeting customers’ needs in that way.

But this goes far beyond merely commercial considerations. 

Sustainability is quite simply the right thing to do.  It must be the foundation of food security for the sake not only of this generation, but also the sake of our children, and our children’s children.     We must treasure the planet, even as we make use of its natural resources.

That also means that we need to do the hard work of adapting our systems to meet the realities of climate change.   The private sector has an important role to play in innovating in the face of those challenges. 

Policymakers also have an important role in putting in place policies to mitigate harm and speed the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Part of that effort must involve stripping away as many distortions and harmful policies as possible.

For ABAC, that points to addressing environmentally-harmful subsidies in the food sector, including those that deplete or destroy global fisheries stocks, and incentivise distorting agricultural practices that come along with a heavy burden in terms of biodiversity, water or greenhouse gas emissions.

From the point of view of New Zealand, our approach to food and agriculture policy, and indeed our approach to hosting ABAC in this coming year, can be constructed with three key pillars: people, place and prosperity.    

These pillars are deeply interconnected – and without addressing all three, it is our view that we will struggle to achieve durable food security in the region, or indeed sustainable and inclusive growth more broadly.

In my own business, Kono, our guiding principle is ‘love for the land, respect for the sea’.

Kono is a vertically-integrated, family-owned Māori food and beverage producer.  We are an exporter of award-winning wine, cider, seafood, fruit and natural fruit bars, to over 25 economies in the region and around the world.  We aspire to be the world’s best indigenous food and beverage provider.  

Fishing is a traditional source of economic and cultural wealth for Māori.  At Kono we use science-based catch plans and sustainable aquaculture approaches that allow us to meet demand without destroying the ecosystem.   

Likewise, Kono’s production of wine and fruit is undertaken to the highest standards of sustainability and agriculture practice. 

And that is the ethos that I hope to bring to ABAC – and which I believe we should all bring to this important work of helping to feed our people.  Sustainability must be fundamental to everything that we do.

In Māori, we have a whakatauki, or proverb, which says:

Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou, ka ora ai te iwi

That means in English, “With your food basket and my food basket, the people will thrive.”  I believe that is a good place to end these remarks.

Kia ora, and thank you.

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