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Gibbs snipes at Zespri, thanks MPs

Wednesday 4th May 2011

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The nation's central-desk kiwifruit marketer, Zespri International, took a slick presentation to Parliament today to thank politicians and officials for their support for the industry - and its underpinning regulatory structure - but had a major critic sniping from sidelines.

Even as Prime Minister John Key was repeating earlier assurances that the National-led Government was leaving the future of the industry up to the wishes of growers, Turners and Growers principal Tony Gibbs was firing off emails to all MPs arguing that Zespri's control of exports outside Australasia were "outdated".

Gibbs has repeatedly said that Turners and Growers could boost export earnings by half a billion dollars "once in full production and being able to export without restriction".

He was critical of the Zespri presentation to MPs, including Parliament's Speaker, Lockwood Smith, which promoted its 2025 strategy, which includes trebling the industry's present export earnings of $1.07 billion.

"Any predictions by Zespri about the future growth of the entire industry today are meaningless," said Gibbs, whose first legal campaign against the kiwifruit marketer was last year rejected by the High Court, which found that the Kiwifruit Export Regulations 1999 were validly established 11 years ago and that Kiwifruit New Zealand, the industry regulator, has exclusive jurisdiction to consider complaints under those regulations. Turners and Growers is appealing that decision.

Separately, it plans another challenge alleging that Zespri has abused its dominant position and breached the Commerce Act. Turners and Growers has said Zespri tried to preserve its monopoly after deregulation by tying producers into exclusive contracts; trying to control kiwifruit exports to Australia in 2008-09; and trying to take control of new kiwifruit cultivars. The case was due to start today, but earlier this week was postponed by Turners.

Gibbs said Turners was found it "extremely concerning" the Government was supporting the presentation to MPs - which he labelled a "publicity stunt" .

But Key told the gathering that there was always a debate about the right structure for the industry.

"From the National Government's perspective ... that's in the hands of growers," he said.

"We have seen an overwhelming response that growers want to keep the structure that was put in place in 1999.

"We think that makes enormous sense.

"It is a great way of making sure that we have value and that we grow the industry.

"The destiny of the kiwifruit industry is in the hands of the growers," Key said. "Providing they continue to support Zespri, then we'll be continuing to support Zespri".

Labour agriculture spokesman Damien O'Connor, who was also at the presentation, said later that Brash-Key government would be likely to introduce policies which stopped progress in the industry.

"Dr Don Brash is a staunch proponent of a deregulated industry and will no doubt demand that Zespri and its coordinated market approach be opened up to competitors," he said.

This was despite the fact that growth in kiwifruit exports under the existing collaborative marketing arrangements had been "spectacular", O'Connor said.



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