NZ Government set to breach terms of UK trade deal

Image of a cow grazing with Mount Taranaki in the background
© Dave Young
Press Release

Environmental groups have today warned that the Government’s ‘war on nature’ could put its billion-dollar Free Trade Agreement with the UK at risk.

WWF-New Zealand and other environmental groups have argued in a submission that the Government’s plans to weaken environmental regulations and slash climate policies mean it is failing to meet the terms of the deal negotiated with the UK.

New Zealand’s FTA with the UK entered into force on 31 May 2023 and contains one of the most far-reaching Environment Chapters the country has ever negotiated. It includes strong, directive commitments to promote sustainable agriculture, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, and address both climate change and nature loss.

The FTA commits the Government to “ensure that its environmental law and policies provide for and encourage a high level of environmental protection and to continue to improve its respective levels of environmental protection". 

WWF New Zealand’s CEO Dr Kayla Kingdon-Bebb says the new Government is backsliding on its environmental and climate policies and in doing so threatening New Zealand’s international reputation and access to key export markets.

“For a Government that claims its biggest priority is growing our economy, it’s ironic it would then go out of its way to jeopardise a trade deal that should boost New Zealand’s annual GDP by up to $1 billion,” says Dr Kingdon-Bebb.

“Our Government is taking an axe to key environmental regulations and has buried its head in the sand about the climate emergency we now face.

“We already know that many of Aotearoa’s treasured native species are on the brink of extinction and we’re dangerously off-track with efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

“But what I think our Prime Minister fails to recognise is that by backsliding on our environmental regulations and kicking the can down the road on climate action, we’re also shooting our primary producers and businesses in the foot,” she says.

“The Government is not only wreaking havoc on our natural world, but it’s also trashing our international reputation and putting the economy at risk.”

Since the Coalition Government formed it has already repealed key environmental laws, paused critical work to protect indigenous biodiversity, and signalled it will introduce fast-track consents for ministerially selected infrastructure projects that bypass environmental checks and balances.

And in the middle of the climate crisis, it has slashed public transport initiatives and incentives for electric vehicles, further delayed pricing agricultural emissions, and pledged to reopen the door to offshore oil and gas exploration.

Gary Taylor, CEO of the Environmental Defence Society and member of the Government’s Trade For All Advisory Board, says the Government needs to consider its international commitments before it continues with its assault on nature.  

“The Government needs to have regard to the commitments it has made in the UK-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement before it continues to embark on an environmentally disastrous set of policies,” he says.

In the submission, which is jointly signed by WWF-New Zealand, EDS, Greenpeace Aotearoa, Forest & Bird, and Pure Advantage, the groups also argue that the Government’s plans to ‘cut red tape’ for industry and the primary sector are intended to enhance New Zealand’s export competitiveness at the expense of the climate and the environment. They caution this creates an implicit subsidy for New Zealand exports.

“The costs of this Government’s ‘war on nature’ ultimately will fall to the New Zealand public, who will be forced to deal with dying rivers and lakes, the collapse of our wild fisheries, and wider environmental degradation," says Dr Kingdon-Bebb.

The terms of the FTA specify that the parties “shall not waive or otherwise derogate from their environmental laws in a manner that weakens or reduces the protection afforded in that law in order to encourage trade or investment.” 

In the submission, environmental groups say that the weakening of environment policy settings is “an unapologetic attempt by the New Zealand Government to expand the value of domestic exports by reducing barriers to higher production,” putting it in direct breach of its trade obligations.