Agriculture: Apple import decision to be reviewedNews Weekly
, August 25, 2001
Australian Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture (AFFA) has announced its intention to appoint a panel of scientific experts to review the earlier draft Biosecurity Australia Import Risk Analysis (IRA) that recommended allowing New Zealand apples into Australia.
The terms of reference and other details have to be made public, and apple industry leaders are adamant that they want a "non-routine" investigation, that is open, transparent, and embraces all the stakeholders.
The earlier apple IRA had been a much more restrictive " routine" investigation that earned the ire of Australian growers.
The AFFA decision comes one month after a scathing report by the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee into the Biosecurity Australian IRA on apples.
The Senate report was critical of Biosecurity Australia for:
- its decision not to conduct a "non-routine" IRA;
- the lack of involvement of State leaders, of expertise of State agriculture departments; and of Environment Australia;
- the poor quality consultative process with international scientists;
- for faulty methodology in assessing the risk of importing fire blight from New Zealand;
- inadequate consideration of important scientific concerns relating to fire blight’s robust nature under Australian environmental conditions; and
- the clear need for further research on the potential dangers to Australia;
The Senate Committee made 15 recommendations to AFFA on how to remedy these deficiencies in its final report.
The Senate report made its clear that it was not dictating whether importation of New Zealand apples should or should not be allowed. It recognised that World Trade Organisation guidelines, "Australia is obliged to adopt the best trade restrictive protocols possible".
However it also reaffirmed that WTO rules also allows Australia to implement as conservative appropriate level of protection as it chooses, so long as it is "scientifically based, non-distriminating and consistently applied. [Hence] ... at the conclusion of the final IRA, Australia remains entitled to apply the precautionary principle and continue to prevent the importation of New Zealand apples pending further research".
While apple growers remain concerned about the New Zealand push to gain access to the Australian market, of greater concern is the push by Washington to have Australia weaken its quarantine rules as part of the drive for an Australia-US free trade agreement.
US apple and pear growers have been demonstrating in Washington. A combination of fire blight outbreaks, rising production costs and world competition is seeing them push for access to foreign markets, including Australia.