The canker in quarantine policies

No, it’s not the bit­ter reac­tion from the apple and pear lob­by to the end of our cen­tu­ry-long ban on apple imports from NZ. What else could we expect: thanks to the price (and qual­i­ty) pro­tec­tion afford by the ban, uncom­pet­i­tive pro­duc­ers in those indus­tries have been rip­ping-off the con­sumer so long we could hard­ly expect them to qui­et­ly wel­come the cold show­er of a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket.

The canker oozes, instead, from the moot­ed Nation­als-Greens alliance behind a private-Member’s bill from the oppo­si­tion Agri­cul­ture spokesman to restore the pro­hi­bi­tion. The odour of old-fash­ioned pro­tec­tion­ism reminds us that lead­ers of the farm­ing and envi­ron­men­tal lob­bies (like quite a few union lead­ers) have no idea of how com­pe­ti­tion works to our advan­tage or why con­sumers are so thor­ough­ly fed-up with their han­ker­ing for cen­tral plan­ning and social con­trol.

Like oth­er infec­tions, quar­an­tine pro­tec­tion­ism tends to spread; so the counter-ini­tia­tive from Julie Bish­op is a fool­ish idea. It treats the prob­lem posed by the import ban (the loss of our own gains from trade) as if it were mere­ly one of treaty; as if we imple­ment WTO agree­ments only because they’re law (to be tem­pered with dis­cre­tion?). It’s not about the pol­i­tics, it’s about who gains and who pays. Why must we pay any­thing to “pla­cate Mr Cobb”?

We remain com­mit­ted to the WTO rules-based frame­work to Aus­tralia hon­our­ing its inter­na­tion­al oblig­a­tions,” Ms Bish­op said. “I’m going to ensure that we don’t devi­ate from that.”

But it is under­stood she is nego­ti­at­ing with Dr Emer­son to find a way to pla­cate Mr Cobb’s con­cerns by apply­ing fur­ther sci­en­tif­ic pro­tec­tions to pre­vent fire blight from spread­ing to Aus­tralia.

Extract from Coali­tion at odds in bat­tle on apple imports from New Zealand | The Aus­tralian

As for the pathet­ic pan­ic by Aus­tralian State gov­ern­ments, seek­ing to sec­ond-guess nation­al quar­an­tine stan­dards… It’s time to inject some real­i­ty inject­ed into this debate. WTO found—twice, once on appeal—that our risk-assess­ment was exag­ger­at­ed . The real risk to Aus­tralian orchards of the trans­mis­sion of fire-blight from NZ imports is van­ish­ing­ly small.

To see why, there’s no need to rake-over the con­vo­lut­ed details of AQIS’ risk assess­ment. Con­sid­er, instead, the remark­ably sim­i­lar sto­ry of U.S. suc­cess in export­ing apples to Japan in the face of almost iden­ti­cal claims about fire-blight by pro­tec­tion­ist Japan­ese orchardists. The WTO over­turned the Japan­ese import ban, too, in 2001 and a sec­ond time in 2005. Why? Because mil­lions of export­ed apples export­ed by the USA to Japan between the ear­ly 1980s and 1994 when Japan changed its import reg­u­la­tions had not caused a sin­gle case of fire-blight infec­tion in Japan.

Care­ful exper­i­ments by the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture showed that the the­o­ret­i­cal risk was one infec­tion in 5,000 years of U.S. exports (it was lat­er shown that the risk had been over­stat­ed: the val­ue is now believed to be between 1 in 5,000 years and 1 in 750,000 years).

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