Watching protectionist curtains be raised all around the globe

BRUCE WILLIS
Last updated 11:15 26/12/2013

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OPINION: I am going to thank a farmer in Taranaki.

His name is Harvey Leach and he has just stepped down as our provincial president there. Next year is the International Year of the Family Farm and Harvey is the sort of person who personifies that ideal.

Our provincial presidents do a lot of great work that never gets much coverage but Harvey has always been one of life's true gentlemen. He will be missed but he leaves his province in great shape.

Bronwyn Muir becomes our sixth female provincial president, which means a quarter of our board and a quarter of our provincial presidents are women. Being a meritocracy, numbers will fluctuate but right now we've hit the voluntary target set by New Zealand's 25 Percent Group for women on boards and are well ahead of its 2015 target date.

Not something you'd expect from Federated Farmers, perhaps, but a good time to remind you about the danger of assumption.

New Zealand seems to be putting winters of discontent behind us as summer brings increasingly good economic news. News helped by trade and tariff agreements, like the one recently struck with China-Taipei. This is worth $40 million to NZ Inc in year one and more than $70 million by year four.

It may not have the glitz of an Avatar but it will be generating 40 per cent of one film's value to New Zealand every year. It's also worth pointing out that Avatar director James Cameron has a foot in both camps since he is also a Wairarapa farmer.

From Narvik on the Norwegian Sea to Singapore in the South China Sea, a protectionist curtain is lifting across the globe.

While I am paraphrasing Winston Churchill, the momentum for free trade is unstoppable. What is also vital for all farmers and, indeed, anyone who exports anything is trade access and that's my second Christmas wish.

While the outcome of the recent World Trade Organisation ministerial was modest, the real game in town is the Trans Pacific Partnership. It speaks volumes that countries like South Korea want in but no country wants out.

Sadly, the TPP will not be under our Christmas tree but, given what I've heard, it will be a late arriving gift. I hear a lot of fear about the TPP and how "secretive" the talks are. I have never done a negotiation which wasn't confidential because that goes with the territory.

Given the kerfuffle over the Government Communications Security Bureau earlier this year, it seems odd that opponents don't want TPP negotiators to have the privacy they demand for themselves. I don't think many politicians would welcome a webcam publicly live streaming their caucus meetings where policies and strategy are discussed.

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Given next year is a general election year, I can help to dispel one myth and that is the claim New Zealanders won't have a say on the TPP. The Government can only ratify the TPP once Parliament has given its consideration of it and any TPP- related legislation. This likely means three readings in Parliament, a process for submissions and select committee hearings.

If the TPP can be concluded in the new year, the experts say it will be worth at least US$2.9 billion by 2025. I think that's conservative since our exports to China have quintupled since 2008.

While parts of the country are drying out, it is summer and we know this means hot, dry weather. The last thing Federated Farmers wishes to perpetuate is the "farmers are never happy with the weather" myth. We have long weather records on-farm giving us guidance. In the Hawke's Bay we've had hot days with rain but, best of all, those strong drying winds of spring have gone.

So, if I was hoping for another Christmas gift under my tree, it would be a rather large one since it is the Ruataniwha Dam and water storage projects like it.

I know Jeanette Maxwell, our meat and fibre chairwoman, has begun consultation with our members on options for red meat industry reform. To me, water storage is vital for red meat farming. Without reliable water we are held hostage to rain or the lack thereof.

This impedes planning and fundamentally means we struggle to keep our businesses on an even keel. Water storage represents a game changer for red meat farming. If I had a third wish, it is for the environmental benefits of water storage to be reported.

So my final Christmas wish is for positive politics in 2014. I am an optimist. Merry Christmas and visit the country this festive season.

* Bruce Wills is national Federated Farmers president.

- The Southland Times

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