8 Mar 2009

'Other intentions' behind food miles debate, says WTO boss

4:18 pm on 8 March 2009

World Trade Organisation director-general Pascal Lamy has lent his support to the view that the food miles debate is no more than a protection campaign run by European farmers.

The food miles argument says that consumers should opt for local produce instead of food shipped from overseas, because of the carbon emissions associated with transporting it long distances.

Mr Lamy says that is a threat to developing nations as well as to New Zealand food producers.

He says cut flowers from Kenya or sheep meat from New Zealand sold in British retail stores has a lower carbon footprint than many such items produced locally. "If you look at the whole chain, in my view, the numbers show that it's a campaign which is grounded on other intentions," he says.

Pascal Lamy says the WTO would only regard the food miles argument as a technical trade barrier if the European Union was to introduce penalties such as a carbon tax on imported goods.

The deputy chief executive of the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, John Ballingall, says a recent report by his organisation points out that there could be significant economic impacts from these sorts of campaigns.

He says WTO members, including New Zealand, need to be vigilant when it comes protectionism wearing a green disguise.

Meanwhile, Mr Lamy has described a decision by the European Union to reintroduce dairy subsidies as a "negative signal".

Even though the European Union is not breaking any rules, he says reintroducing subsidies is not a good move.