You’ve probably heard that the US Department of Agriculture over the weekend shut the door to all NZ flower products. Said a spokesman for the NZ Flower Exporters Association, the US trade is 30% of the market, but 70% of the value.

The cause: discovery in NZ flowers of a pest, the light brown apple moth, that Calfornia authorities have spent millions trying to eradicate. Adding insult to injury, the bugger is native to Australia!

The message here is exactly how fragile NZ’s export economy can become, if our agricultural products fail to meet ever-escalating standards around the world for safety and environmental “purity.” Our farm products sell abroad on the basis of our “clean, green” image. Tarnish that image, and sales will fade.

Tarnish that image, and it might never be reparable.

Now, the apple moth isn’t, strictly speaking, an environmental villain. But the point remains.

New Zealand Pure is what sells … and what potentially commands a premium price in the global marketplace. And presently, NZ enjoys an international perception as being environmentally benign. Kiwis are thought to care about their environment. Our animals and foods are thought not to be tainted by excessive chemical treatments and fertilisers. And, more indirectly, our marvelous landscapes, enjoyed by foreign visitors and extolled when they return home, add further lustre to the green image.

It all adds up to a warm, fuzzy feeling abroad about New Zealand and its products. What a corporate marketer calls brand equity or goodwill. But whereas corporate marketers can establish some rough empirical sense of how much their brand’s equity contributes to sales, customer loyalty and margins, I’m aware of no such efforts to quantify the contribution of NZ’s green brand goodwill to the national or regional economy.

So politicians like Helen Clark and John Key will each stress the importance of NZ’s “clean, green” reputation, but they don’t really attach a concrete value to it. And without that value being established concretely, it’s much more difficult for serious measures to protect and restore NZ’s environment to actually gain traction. They are simply dismissed as “too expensive” or “too heavy a burden” to place on this or that industry. Protecting the nation’s green brand is seen as a deadweight cost, as opposed to a smart investment in our future prosperity.

It would be nice to establish the economic value of NZ’s “clean, green” brand pro-actively, so that measures to reinforce it would enjoy broad support, rather than waiting for consequences like declining tourism or falling exports to tell us just how much value we’ve wasted or lost.

So we can curse the light brown apple moth, but we can’t now say it hasn’t warned us of our vulnerability.

Tom

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