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Aussie PM distances himself from grocery snub

Last updated 05:00 08/02/2014

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Country-of-origin labelling is being raised as an option for New Zealand shoppers wanting to protest at Australia's snub of Kiwi-grown produce.

Some New Zealand companies are crying foul after two big Australian supermarkets axed their contracts to supply home-brand products in favour of Australian produce.

Prime Minister John Key raised the issue with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Sydney yesterday but left empty-handed.

Coles and Woolworths say they are giving their customers what they want - Australian-made produce and Australian jobs.

Labour MP Damien O'Connor said yesterday that the Australian supermarkets had used country-of-origin labelling to discriminate against New Zealand produce.

"It is now time to introduce country-of-origin labelling in New Zealand so Kiwis can know if they are buying Australian produce and return the sentiment."

The Australian supermarket snub is being branded a breach of the spirit of its Closer Economic Relationship agreement with New Zealand - but Abbott made it clear yesterday he would not intervene.

"I know that some of the New Zealand producers are quite exercised about this . . . my natural instinct about this is to say that these are commercial decisions, to be made commercially by private businesses in accordance with what they think is in their best commercial interests."

But any company that felt aggrieved should complain to the Australian competition authorities, or make a submission to an Australian Government review of competition policy, he said.

Key reiterated that while New Zealand considered it a breach of the spirit of CER, Crown Law advice suggested it did not contravene the decades-old agreement.

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Peter Silcock said growers were disappointed in the lack of progress.

Australia was a $500-million-a-year market. "This is a commercial and political move, Aussie growers have campaigned for this.

"They struggle to compete with us and get significant support from their state and federal governments.

"This is a pretty desperate measure, not in the spirit of CER, and it reduces choice for Australian consumers."

The annual get-together of the Australia and New Zealand prime ministers has become an important event in both their calendars, signalled by the size of the Kiwi contingent accompanying Key, including some top business leaders.

The supermarket issue is an irritant in the relationship, along with the ongoing debate over the rights of Kiwi expats across the Tasman, who are not entitled to welfare or other entitlements.

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The Australian Government has refused to reverse its 2001 decision removing those entitlements but Key yesterday won a small concession when Abbott confirmed Australia's commitment to allow the children of some Kiwi expats entitlement to student loans.

The announcement ended the uncertainty over a deal done by the previous Australian Labor government extending student loans to those who were under 18 and had been living in Australia at least 10 years.

But yesterday's talks largely focused on the G20, a gathering of the leaders of the biggest and most powerful economies, which this year is in Brisbane.

Australia used its role as host of the event to invite New Zealand, an unprecedented opportunity to sit around the G20 table.

Abbott said he wanted the G20 to showcase "not just Australia but Australasia".

- The Dominion Post


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