How the primary industries will benefit from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership

New Zealand signed the deal on Sunday.
New Zealand signed the deal on Sunday.

A new trade partnership signed by New Zealand over the weekend is set to bring "significant benefits" to the primary sector.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a trade agreement between 15 economies in the Asia Pacific Region, including Australia, ASEAN (the Association of South East Asian Nations), China, Japan and South Korea.

Officials here say the deal will increase New Zealand's GDP by around $2 billion overall.

In announcing the agreement on Sunday, Minister for Trade and Export growth Damien O'Connor said one of the biggest wins for the primary industries was an expectation that customs officials in partner countries would "release perishable goods within six hours of arrival, helping to reduce spoilage and save money".

Fruit and vegetable growers said this would be an "immediate benefit" to the sector.

"This will help ensure that our produce arrives on consumers' tables in the best possible condition," Horticulture NZ chief executive Mike Chapman said on Monday.

"Also of significant benefit is that the agreement provides a process for addressing non-tariff barriers within clear timeframes," he said.

Onions growers echoed Chapman's views, saying with 85 percent of the industry earnings coming from exports having access to more markets would be a boost for the sector.

"Given the countries involved and the size of their population, the RCEP will help New Zealand's economic recovery from COVID by strengthening trade links in the Asia-Pacific region and keeping the flow of goods and services moving," said James Kuperus, chief executive of Onions New Zealand.

"However, with the uncertainty that COVID has created, onion plantings for harvest in 2021 have reduced by 6 percent but this will impact exports only, with domestic supply not affected.

"That said, onions are an important rotation crop in many vegetable growers' plans. Having onions in their rotations allow growers to rotate between other crops such as lettuces, potatoes and carrots, which helps to control pests and diseases."

Beef + Lamb New Zealand chief executive Sam McIvor said the agreement would help deepen cooperation and strengthen trade in the region, which would ultimately be beneficial for meat exporters.

"Ensuring a strong framework of trade deals around the world will help support a resilient red meat sector and the broader New Zealand economy at a time of global turbulence," McIvor said. 

"Trade supports 92,000 jobs in the red meat sector across the country, particularly in our regions. This helps achieve a more predictable and secure trade environment for all."

Sirma Karapeeva, chief executive of the Meat Industry Association (MIA) said the countries in the partnership were important export markets for the red meat industry.

"The agreement helps to streamline trade rules around the region. COVID-19 has shown just how important it is to keep supply chains functioning and trade flowing smoothly."

Trade analyst Stephen Jacob, executive director of New Zealand International Business Forum (NZIBF), told Newshub exports of meat, dairy, fish, honey, avocados, tomatoes and persimmons would all benefit from "small cuts in tariff" into Indonesia, while "all sectors benefit from improved trade rules".

[The agreement] brings together and consolidates in one agreement rules that currently exist in several agreements," Jacobi said.

"It gives us a seat at the table as new rules are made in the future."

Although the deal was good news for exporters, some have expressed disappointment that India did not sign the agreement.

Although the subcontinent was involved when RCEP talks began in 2013, it withdrew last year, with its government voicing concerns that opening up its market could cause its trade deficit with China to grow. Indian milk producers also had concerns about the consequences of New Zealand and Australian exports having access to their domestic market.

Malcolm Bailey, chair of NZIBF said there was still hope India would join the agreement at some point.

"Obviously we would have preferred the deal to have delivered a much sought-after FTA [Free Trade Agreement] with India and we hope that India will join the RCEP in the not too distant future," he said.

His view was echoed by McIvor, of Beef + Lamb NZ. 

"We are disappointed that India has not been able to come aboard the deal for now  we see a lot of untapped potential in our trade relationship. We hope that over time they will come to see the mutual benefits that RCEP offers and will decide to join the agreement."

Not everyone was in favour of the deal, however. Lobby group It's Our Future said on Saturday without India's involvement New Zealand shouldn't sign the deal.

"The Government's only rationale has been that RCEP is a backdoor to a free trade agreement with India. Now India has backed out, deciding that RCEP is not in its national interest. New Zealand needs to do the same," said Edward Miller, a spokesperson for the group.

"We still have next to no public effective consultation on closed-door trade deals like the RCEP. There is no publicly available text and no clear intention to bring these discussions out of the shadows. Has the NZ Government forgotten the public response to the equally secretive TPPA negotiation?"

The deal still needs to be ratified by ASEAN countries, a process O'Connor saying he hopes will be concluded by 2022.