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Zespri Accuses GPG Of Colluding To Undermine NZ Trade Policy

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Nov 24 NZPA - Zespri has accused a commercial rival of colluding with foreign powers to undermine its activities and New Zealand's trade policy.

Letters from Zespri chief executive Lain Jager to Trade Minister Tim Groser accused Guinness Peat Group (GPG) and its subsidiary Turners and Growers (T&G) of working with the United States Government to get rid of its single desk status.

NZPA reported yesterday Turners and Growers appeared to have ambushed the kiwifruit growers' marketer at the World Trade Organisation.

Turners chairman Tony Gibbs said yesterday the US delegation at the WTO had lodged a question related to his court action in New Zealand against Zespri International's single desk status.

Letters from Mr Jager to Mr Groser in late September and early October said GPG had worked with US embassy staff in Wellington.

"(The evidence) strongly suggests GPG and its subsidiary Turners and Growers are seeking to collude with foreign powers to apply pressure on the New Zealand Government in context of CPG/T&Gs demands for the deregulation of the domestic kiwifruit industry," the letter said.

Mr Jager said there were reports T&G was also trying to undermine free trade talks.

"T&G planned to bring the existence and effect of the New Zealand kiwifruit regulations to the attention of the United States and Korean Governments in the context of upcoming free trade discussions in order to put pressure on the New Zealand Government to deregulate the New Zealand kiwifruit industry."

Mr Jager said the reports from various credible sources showed that "on the face of it, this activity is to the detriment of New Zealand's trade policy, international relations and economic interests."

Mr Groser played down the dispute, saying New Zealand was a free country and people were allowed to meet representatives of foreign governments.

"If you want my personal opinion, it's not helpful," he said on TV3 News tonight.

"We didn't come down in the last shower. This is a commercial dispute between one company that has failed to crack Zespri's position seeking alternative mechanisms."

Turners and Growers is controlled by corporate raider GPG, which led the attack that acquired the apple industry's Enza company from orchardists in 2000, and Mr Gibbs absorbed Enza into Turners and Growers.

He has criticised Zespri control of export markets outside Australasia, and complained that Kiwifruit New Zealand had allocated Turners and Growers only 1.3 per cent of the 2009 export fruit for collaborative marketing.

Turners wants to grow and export its own Enza red variety in New Zealand, though it is already being grown and sold commercially offshore.

Turners has taken Zespri to court, alleging anti-competitive behaviour in the $800 million kiwifruit trade.

"We believe that it's abused that monopoly, and the Zespri monopoly should end," said Mr Gibbs.

He has highlighted the US question, in the context of New Zealand seeking a trade deal with the US.

"Here we are looking for free trade, and here we have the world's last monopoly," he said.

Zespri has called the legal action against it a publicity stunt.

Mr Groser has said Zespri's dominant position is likely to remain, as long as the majority of kiwifruit growers continue to support it.

Mr Gibbs has said the 1999 reforms that created the single desk were only intended to be an interim measure, but the then National-led government's food and fibre minister John Luxton said at the time that a single kiwifruit marketing desk should continue "without a sunset clause".

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