Speech to Primary Industries Summit

Prime Minister

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about the significant contribution the food and fibres sector makes to New Zealand and how this Government is supporting that effort.

I’d like to start by acknowledging our co-Chairs, Terry Copeland and Mavis Mullins, my colleague, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, all of you in the audience, and the impressive line-up of speakers that we have here today.

It is great to be here today, talking for the first time since the election.

The election delivered the Labour Government a very strong mandate, the first majority government under MMP.  It’s an outcome we’ve been truly humbled by.

And it is pleasing that this strong mandate has been delivered equally across the country, including in rural communities like Morrinsville.

The success of Labour in rural New Zealand is a huge honour, but with it comes huge responsibility. And also huge opportunities.

The vote represents both an endorsement of the direction the Government is heading, as well as a requirement to work more closely with our rural communities and I want to see more of that happening locally.

I have made it very clear to our all our MPs, as well as those in provincial seats, that the primary sector is a key partner and stakeholder for this Government, and I want to see ideas permeate up from the grass roots as well as our engagement at a leadership level.

I have articulated three key objectives for the Government – continuing to keep New Zealanders safe from Covid, accelerating our economic recovery and laying the foundations for the future. Primary industries are at the heart of each objective.

Keeping the virus out means our domestic economy can stay open, accelerating our recovery means leveraging our Covid free brand to maximise our export value while accessing new markets and laying the foundations for the future means tackling long term challenges like our water quality and climate change because it is our economic interests to do so, but also because they are the right things to do for our today and for our future.

I have said on a number of occasions that we intend to be a Government for all New Zealanders. I am well aware of the breadth of New Zealanders who placed their trust in the Government and the direction set out. We won’t agree on everything all the time, but we will engage, we will listen and we will represent local interests.

So that is where we are now, but I want to reflect on where we’ve been together this year. 

In March this year we asked our country to go into lockdown. At that time we had to get COVID-19 under control so that we could enjoy the freedoms we have today.

What we knew was how complicated shutting down an economy would be. There are goods and services that if we lost access to, our country would simply cease to function.

We needed to ensure that basic services like healthcare, freight and utilities were still available.

We needed to keep producing food for tables not just in New Zealand, but all over the world. As you all know, the food and fibres sector was integral to this.

I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the role that our food producing and processing businesses have played over the past nine months. I’d also like to acknowledge the non-food businesses that nevertheless played a key role during the lockdown period – such as processing wool for medical facemasks and producing paper and timber products needed to package and transport food.

Whether it was working quickly and cooperatively with government agencies to register as essential services and develop safe working practices, or simply getting up and going to work in what were uncertain and, occasionally, unsettling times, you and your industries kept New Zealand moving.

It wasn’t easy, there were challenges and hiccups, but we navigated them all together.

Thank you. We wouldn’t be where we are at now were it not for those efforts

While it hasn’t been an easy period, I know we all appreciate the agility and innovation that has been on show as many primary producers quickly implemented new ways of working.

Some industries that rely heavily on seasonal labour, such as the horticulture industry, have struggled due to border closures. However, many parts of industry have taken innovative steps to encourage more New Zealanders into their sectors. This has been a lifeline for many redeployed workers from industries such as tourism and hospitality.

Whether it is keeping the milk flowing through our processing plants or livestock moving through our freezing works, the food and fibres sector has kept New Zealanders fed and maintained our vital export markets.

Not all food and fibre sectors have been so lucky though. Industries like wool, fisheries and forestry have suffered significant disruptions and had to make great sacrifices. For that I acknowledge you. No one’s journey through Covid has been the same as others.

But there has been a common trait. The strength and innovation you’ve demonstrated are exactly the qualities that will put us in good stead as we embark on our recovery.

While much of this year has been focussed on responding to COVID-19, we’ve also kept working on some of the long-term issues that New Zealand is dealing with.

In September the new national directions on freshwater came into effect. Together these will immediately stop further degradation to our freshwater, and over a generation will lead to improved ecosystem health, in both urban and rural waterways.

As we get further into implementation of this package, if some aspects are found to be impractical on the ground, or unclear, Ministers will receive that advice with the view to making the regulations workable. That’s in everyone’s best interest. And I thank everyone who is working with us to achieve what I believed to be a common goal.

That’s why we’re also providing financial assistance for the implementation of the new clean water standards through a $700 million fund that will create jobs in riparian and wetland planting, removing sediments and other initiatives to prevent farm run off entering waterways.

The direction is ambitious, but we believe it’s achievable. Many in the food and fibres sector are already well on their way and operate at best practice, and most I have met take great pride in taking care of their land, water and animals. We have work to do, but let’s keep talking.

I know this isn’t the only area where you have plans for change.

When I spoke to you at this event last year, The Minister of Agriculture had commissioned the Primary Sector Council to work across the sector and form a vision for the way forward for primary production in the coming decades.

The vision that the Primary Sector Council delivered puts people at the centre. It focuses on rapidly moving to a low carbon emissions society, restoring the health of our water, reversing the decline in biodiversity and, at the same time, producing high-quality, trusted and healthy food, drinks and fibres.

COVID-19 has not changed this direction of travel, but it has made this transformation even more pressing than before.

It outlines industry-specific and cross-cutting initiatives that together will add $44 billion in exports to the food and fibre sectors over the next ten years.

This is an opportunity for us to get alongside industry and invest significantly.

To that end, we’ve boosted the Ministry for Primary Industries’ flagship funding programme, the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund, by bringing forward more than $80 million to provide immediate co-investment.

In addition to that, there are significant parts of the roadmap that the Government is already backing:

  • improving freshwater quality through riparian planting and supporting farmer catchment groups on-the-ground;
  • reducing agricultural emissions;
  • water storage projects;
  • providing support for exporters;
  • the One Billion Trees scheme, to get the right tree in the right place at the right time;
  • developing new high value horticultural crops;
  • helping build better support tools to provide meaningful data to farmer;
  • fighting pests like wilding pines and wallabies to limit production loss; and:
  • helping the sector train more Kiwis to get jobs on orchards, farms, in pack houses and elsewhere.

In Budget 2020 we invested more than $1.1 billion in the Jobs for Nature programme which will improve freshwater, improve biosecurity and enhance biodiversity on public and private land. This programme will provide up to 11,000 jobs and economic support for people and communities across Aotearoa, while ensuring environmental benefits.

We also invested $111.2 million through Budget 2020 to provide support for rural and fishing communities, ensure the supply of food to New Zealanders and address animal welfare issues, address market access issues for horticulture, and attract New Zealanders to employment opportunities in the food and fibre sectors.

Improving access to markets remains a focus for us. A little over a week ago Hon. Damien O’Connor and I announced the conclusion and signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Once it enters into force, RCEP will be the largest free trade agreement in the world. It will position New Zealand at the centre of economic cooperation initiatives in a region which accounts for 30 per cent of the world’s population, nearly a third of the world’s GDP and destination for 56 per cent of New Zealand’s total exports. 

RCEP will increase opportunities for our exporters, cut red tape and offer one set of trade rules across the Asia Pacific region. This will result in around a $2 billion increase to New Zealand’s GDP.

Our food and fibres sector will benefit greatly from this deal, particularly from the elimination of tariffs on some meat products into Indonesia. Our next step is to deliver on the EU FTA.

I’d also like to acknowledge He Waka Eke Noa which is a world-first partnership between the food and fibres sector, government, and Māori. It will help farmers reduce their on-farm emissions and adapt to climate change while contributing to New Zealand reaching our domestic targets for long-lived gases and biogenic methane.  It’s a work programme I’m absolutely convinced will only enhance our trade opportunities in the long run.

The thing that all these initiatives have in common is that they demonstrate how the industry and government are working together to overcome problems and build a renewed food and fibres sector that is fit for a better world. It’s a sector I know we all hope will go from strength to strength including by attracting kiwis to work in the industry.

Our Fit for a Better World roadmap identifies the goal of employing 10 per cent more New Zealanders from all walks of life in the food and fibres sector by 2030, and 10,000 more New Zealanders in the food and fibres sector workforce over the next four years.

The most important asset that any business has is its people. By helping more people into jobs and providing excellent and safe workplaces, while also upskilling New Zealanders at all stages of their careers, we will build a prosperous future together.

Achieving this goal is vital to our success. It will ensure that our businesses can remain operational in the absence of overseas visitors, it will provide meaningful employment to those that have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, it will support our rural communities, and it will build the resilience of our food and fibres sector.

Finally, by taking care of our people and our environment while also lifting our sights to growth through value rather than volume, the food and fibres sector will be at the forefront of what will be an export-led recovery.

I know that’s a vision you share, and I’m excited for the work I know we can do to deliver on that.

Thank you.