Prominent Māori group sides with Australia in bitter battle over Mānuka honey naming rights

A prominent Māori group has sided with Australia in the battle over Mānuka honey's lucrative naming rights - claiming that without the macron, it's a meaningless word. 

The comments have left a sour taste in the mouth of local honey producers, who are fighting to keep the name in New Zealand hands. 

Mānuka honey, also known as liquid gold, has been at the centre of a bitter trans-Tasman dispute for years - and the stakes are high. 

"This is our product, this is our name and we should be the ones to benefit from it," said Matthew Tukaki from the Māori Council.

New Zealand is trying to trademark the name 'Mānuka', effectively shutting Australian producers out of the billion-dollar Chinese market. 

The industry here says it's simple - Mānuka is a Māori word.

Yet the tree itself is native to both New Zealand and Australia, and the Māori Research Institute has muddied the waters by saying the Aussies can use the word if they want to. 

"If the word is spelt without a macron and without the double A, it's a meaningless word meaning anyone can use it," said Māori Research Institute CEO Tom Walters.

The statement is music to the ears of Australian beekeepers, who warn they'll lose more than a billion dollars in sales if New Zealand wins the case.

"It's families that are going to miss out on this because you want to go and buy mānuka at a reasonable price to use it," said Australian beekeeper Matthew Gray.

The Government has recently pledged close to $6 million to help the trademark effort. With Mānuka selling for as much as $400 a kilogram, the economic benefits are huge. 

"We're sick and tired of the Australians trying to impinge on our rights to export to build to develop an industry that is intrinsically important to Māori and Māori communities," Tukaki told Newshub.

The battle isn't getting any sweeter, with Australia's government pledging to fight New Zealand's moves for exclusive rights to the name.