On Wednesday, John Key addressed the Federated Farmers. Part of his mission was to defend his Government’s global warming policies, specifically its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). As toothless as National’s ETS is (setting no cap on carbon emissions), Federated Farmers is nevertheless hysterical.

But at least Key accurately reads the global marketplace and the signal it is sending. Here are some excerpts from his remarks, beginning with the same UK Guardian article BayBuzz cited earlier this week …

“Another example cropped up in last week’s Guardian newspaper, where a columnist criticised New Zealand’s environmental credentials. He pointed out that we’ve had a 22% rise in greenhouse emissions since 1990 and he claimed that our clean and green image increasingly defies reality.

This is more important than you may think. The readers of the Guardian – and other newspapers – buy our meat and our wine. Environmentally aware consumers across Britain and Europe are increasingly demanding higher environmental standards for the food that they buy.

Meanwhile, America’s largest supermarket chain, Walmart, is introducing a Sustainability Index. It includes factors such as the impact on natural resources, energy, and climate change in the manufacture of its products. It is not alone. From McDonalds to the UK supermarket chain Waitrose, the big companies that sell our products are demanding better standards for the products they stock.

So regardless of your view about the environment or climate change, the opinions of your consumers will ultimately decide how well your products sell.

This is what my Minister of Trade calls “the customer as the new regulator”. As trade barriers fall around the world, the key to selling what we grow won’t be the demands or regulations of governments. It will increasingly be the demands and requirements of consumers concerned about what they eat, where their food came from, and the impacts the growing of that food has on the environment.

That’s something we need to be very careful about.”

And …

“… it’s important we realise that, in the end, it won’t be the Emissions Trading Scheme, an international agreement on climate change, or the United Nations that damages New Zealand’s agricultural sector.

Because it’s our customers around the world – in Britain, in Europe, in the United States, and in the growing markets of Asia – who have the ultimate power to damage or enrich our farming sector and our economy.

A few months ago, Waitrose banned fish that it deemed to be either over-fished species, or harvested by what they considered to be irresponsible fishing methods, such as bottom-trawling. Bottom trawling happens to be the method that New Zealand hoki is fished. And so hoki was banned.

You’d imagine that Waitrose’s costs went up and that they were unable to find alternative suppliers for some fish species. So did they suffer commercial consequences?

No. The move was a big commercial success. Consumers rewarded them for delivering products to the standards they wanted.

For me, the lesson is very clear.

While we, as a government, may have some sway over access to overseas markets, we can’t force the consumers in those markets to buy our products if they think they do not measure up to their environmental standards. But we can help protect against that possibility. That’s what we believe our Emissions Trading Scheme does.

And I hope you will see it in that light.”

You can read Key’s entire speech here.

I hope John Key “sees the light” and eventually moves toward a tougher emissions policy that does indeed avoid international political censure — and global consumer rejection.

Tom Belford

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2 Comments

  1. From above.

    Quote – So regardless of your view about the environment or climate change, the opinions of your consumers will ultimately decide how well your products sell.

    Helllooo – this has ALWAYS been the case – anyone remember the Alar scare and Apples last century.

    In the California Consumers just stopped buying apples and supermarkets dumped container loads.

    IT IS NOT John Key, Fed Farmers or Bay Buzz that is going to fix things but you – the consumer.

    If the NZ consumer bought a NZ quality product rather than cheapy from Overseas then in time cheap Overseas imports would slow/stop.

    The power is in your wallet/purse.

  2. Colin, very confusing post. You seem to agree it is the consumer that holds sway, which supports the comments made by John Key. Yet your other posts firmly suggest you are in the non supportive camp when it comes to the debate on climate change, global warming.

    Consumers are rapidly changing their behaviour. Purchasing decisions are increasingly made on the basis of considering environmental and social costs as well as the traditonal price and quality.

    Consumers, whether they agree with global warming or not, are seeking more information about the products they buy and asking questions like "What is in our food, in our homes and in everyday products?”

    You can't sell a story that is "100% Pure and clean and green" if your actions and behaviour are not aligned with your customers perceptions.

    They'll walk with their wallets!

    So it doesn't matter what you think of global warming or climate change. if you misread the market you miss out altogether.

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