Trickle of apples to Australia at first

New Zealand won't be swamping Australia with apples just yet following the relaxing of a 90-year ban.

Australian officials yesterday gave the green light to importing our NZ apples, despite local fears they could carry diseases such as fire blight, European canker and apple leaf curling midge.

The ban has been in place since 1921. The saga ended in a case at the World Trade Organisation that was finally settled in New Zealand's favour late last year. The revised Risk Analysis completed yesterday brings Australia into compliance with the WTO's findings.

Restrictions mean only commercially mature fruit can be imported, the fruit will need to be washed with high-pressure water spray and brushed in the packing house to remove surface contamination from pests and trash such as leaf litter.

Packhouses and orchards must also prove they are taking measures against the diseases and to date just four packhouses here -- of about 75 -- have passed audits and are qualified to pack fruit for Australia.

A small amount of apples are ready to be flown to Australia this week.

Pipfruit NZ chief executive Peter Beaven said the Australian market could be worth $30 million to New Zealand growers, representing about 3 to 5 percent of production in a few years.

With about 500,000 New Zealanders living in Australia, sales could take off quickly. Pipfruit NZ has for several years offered to work collaboratively with Australian growers to promote apple consumption in Australia, where per capita consumption is half that of New Zealand.

Mr Beaven guessed between 15 and 20 packhouses might go for Australian accreditation.

"It's quite a high bar. It's not going to be particularly easy. The audits are pretty rigorous ones."

The packhouses have to audited while they are operating, which meant any wanting accreditation would have to wait until next season, and there would be a bit of a queue then.

However, Mr Beaven said the delay was no bad thing.

"You could say it's the right time of the year. It means there's no pressure of large volume of fruit being harvested into the market so it gives a few companies the chance to test the water."

If there was to be a publicised launch, it would be better to do it next year, he said.

"We think it's too early to have a launch and there's going to be so much breast-beating going on in Australia, it's probably best for us, with the small volumes, to maintain a low-key profile."

The Australian breast-beating was carrying on today, with politicians there still claiming our apples will carry diseases.

National's Senate leader Barnaby Joyce warned that fire blight was "just a matter of probability" if there wasn't sufficient control over imported New Zealand apples.

And the state of Tasmania will try to maintain a ban on New Zealand apples, despite a contrary ruling from the federal government.

Opposition Primary Industries spokesman Jeremy Rockliff said NZ fruit could be devastating for Tasmania if fireblight was unwittingly imported.

"This deal is not about trade. It is about keeping Tasmania's apple industry free of disease."

But Mr Beaven said the claims were "more of the same" after Australia had spent the last 25 years running political interference over apple importation.

"If that private members' bill is passed it actually prevents Australia from meeting its international obligations under the WTO and there will be quite severe consequences to that."

Mr Beaven said it was a moment for the New Zealand apple industry to celebrate."It's been a long fight and quite an exhausting one a lot of the time," he said.

"It just goes to show persistent pays and we have been lucky to have strong support from successive governments which has helped a lot."



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