There Are Two Sides To Every Story

Similar but not identical produce crates from a bygone era

Similar but not identical produce crates from a bygone era

Australia and New Zealand share a lot of common history, have strong bonds as ‘brothers in adversity’, are closely cooperating members of the Commonwealth, often take a joint approach when it comes to tackling injustices in their common neighbourhood, such as the support for Timor Leste and getting the Japanese to stop whaling under scientific pretences in the Southern Ocean.

Then there are the sporting rivalries. Cricket, rugby, rugby league, netball, basket ball – the sport where our Australian cousins don’t claim to be superior beings has yet to be invented. Phar Lap, Pavlova as well as Russell Crowe, by the way, do have their origin in New Zealand, not across the ditch.

In the greater scheme of things though, we do get on. The similarities are obvious in many areas of society and in the economy. This includes horticulture and the produce industries of our respective countries.

United Fresh, the pan industry body of the New Zealand horticulture and produce industries, was very supportive when the Australian produce sector decided to re-establish an industry association under the PMA banner and suggested it became known as PMA Australia and New Zealand. That was because we recognised the similarities and trade connections that existed between our respective produce industries.

However, the terms ‘similar’ and ‘identical’ are not synonymous. Differences do exist and as a result of those inherent differences, industry structures present differently as well. I was therefore surprised to note the tone of an article about the Australian and New Zealand produce industries and their structures in the Autumn 2014 edition of Produce Plus Magazine. The article, entitled “Collaboration or Competition”, included this sentence:

“But there appear to be many opportunities for collaboration that are not being pursued, either for a lack of will or because existing competitive positions amongst stakeholders are too deeply entrenched.”

This statement is in my view either outright mischievous or an indication of a lack of knowledge about how different the two industries are – despite all the obvious similarities.

Here then are some key differences which will continue to play their role in ensuring that the Australian and New Zealand produce industries will never be collaborating to the extent that national identities are lost.

  1. Australia is a tropical fruit producer; New Zealand’s climate does not cater for these crops.
  2. Australia is self sufficient as a banana producer and bans banana imports to protect its local industry. New Zealand imports all its bananas, predominantly from the Philippines and Ecuador.
  3. New Zealand’s fresh produce industry is export focused, with the Zespri and Enza brands standing out as prime examples of what the New Zealand industry can achieve in global markets. Australia has an interstate focus, with exports coming a distant second.
  4. Australia’s capital cities operate municipal produce wholesale markets. No such markets exist in New Zealand cities. Here, commercial companies operate wholesale trading floors where retailers who do not receive direct supplies from growers can purchase their produce.
  5. New Zealand’s geography and topography differ to that of Australia. We might drive produce overnight from Auckland to Wellington. In Australia, produce is trucked by road train from Brisbane to Cairns, a journey that takes several days.
  6. New Zealand ranks joint first (with Denmark) in the global Corruption Perceptions Index 2013 of the world’s least corrupt nations. Australia ranks joint ninth (with Canada).
  7. New Zealand looks at Australian produce from the perspective that if it makes commercial sense to import the produce, then we will need to find a way to make it happen. Australia’s position is that New Zealand produce belongs anywhere but Australia.
  8. New Zealand has had very stable and effective grower and produce industry associations in Horticulture New Zealand and its predecessors, its affiliated product groups and United Fresh. PMA Australia (without the New Zealand bit) is the latest attempt to get an effective and sustainable produce industry organisation up and running in Australia.
  9. Australia’s federal political structure provides the Australian horticulture industry with plenty of challenges which we, on this side of the Tasman, are not experiencing. One central government and a multitude of local government agencies keep us on our toes enough as it is. This makes us very nimble, lean and ensures our effectiveness as in industry – something we are not keen to compromise.

Collaboration is a two way highway, not a one way street or cul de sac. I am sure that there is always more room for collaboration – just as we will never be able to collaborate on all facets of our respective produce industries.

One area the Australian and New Zealand produce industries have been collaborating on is this year’s industry conference, PMA Australia and New Zealand Fresh Connections. The event is co-hosted this year by PMA, Horticulture New Zealand, The Australian Chamber and United Fresh. An example for a plausible and achievable bit of collaboration, is it not?

Disclosure Note

The writer is a member of the United Fresh Executive Committee and a Trustee of the 5+ A Day Charitable Trust.  The opinions expressed here are his personal ones.