Call for wool-sector unity after failure

A wool-sector leader is calling for the industry to unite after the at-times acrimonious and divisive debate over the failed formation of Wool Partners Co-operative.

John Dawson, the chairman of the New Zealand Council of Wool Exporters, said the onus was on all parts of the industry to unite to better understand the various roles of the players, and that included growers having a greater involvement.

"I believe growers have to be more involved. How that takes place is something all the industry have to get their head around and come up with a solution," he said in an interview.

A change of attitude throughout the industry was also needed, along with an appreciation of the roles the various sectors played, he said.

For example, there was little understanding about the function of exporters, especially the risks they took, he said.

"I do honestly think growers do not appreciate what an exporter does," he said.

Part of the reason was growers dealt with brokers and merchants and had little contact with exporters.

Mr Dawson wants to see better communication and said a start could be made by getting representatives from all sectors around a table to start talking.

Not only was a worldwide shortage of wool resulting in soaring prices, the result of investment in marketing by individual companies was starting to bear fruit, he said.

New Zealand exporters, some merchants and brokers have started paying a royalty, estimated at $500,000 a year, to the Campaign for Wool, a worldwide promotion of the fibre fronted by Prince Charles and targeted at retailers.

Mr Dawson reiterated comments by others in the sector that a whole generation of consumers were ignorant of the attributes of wool and the industry needed to lift the fibre's profile.

"I sincerely believe wool has gone out the minds of young people. We've got to get it back."

It would, however, be a long-term project, but he believed the Campaign for Wool was the correct vehicle.

"There has been nothing out there like this for quite some time," he said.

Individual companies were pursuing their own branding strategies, which complemented the international campaign, and it was also helped by farmer confidence being boosted by recovering wool prices, Mr Dawson said.

The strong wool auction indicator last week started to close in on 600c a kg for the first time since March 1995.

The recent debate over the establishment of Wool Partners Co-operative (WPC) and its plans to corner half the country's strong wool clip and change the way it was sold had provoked comments from both sides which Mr Dawson described as "controversial" and sometimes not correct, but it was time to look beyond that.

"I think the challenge is now to look over that and look to the future."

Exporters were opposed to WPC and the resulting debate had been savage, but there was now a willingness among the various sectors to work together, helped in part by the higher wool prices, Mr Dawson said.

There has been talk of WPC launching even though it failed to reach its $60 million capital target, but the essence of the debate remained - would it benefit growers?"At the end of the day, that is what the debate was all about, in my view - would the growers be better off with it?"

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