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Zespri under fire during India visit

Former T&G chairman Tony Gibbs in bitter dispute with NZ trade minister as Zespri predicts huge growth in exports to India

Zespri under fire during India visit
A promotional poster for Zespri kiwifruit in India, portraying the company's Gold and Green fruit as "the world's smallest heavyweights"

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Tony Gibbs, former chairman of New Zealand-based fresh produce company Turners & Growers, has taken another swipe at kiwifruit marketer Zespri's single-desk exporter status in a bid to put pressure on government officials visiting India this week for discussions on free trade.

"Every other country in the world has agreed to abandon state-backed monopolies for agricultural exports because they are unfair, wrong and bad for business," said Gibbs, who recently stepped down as T&G chairman having earlier been ousted as director of parent company Guinness Peat Group.

"In fairness to Indian consumers and all New Zealand kiwifruit growers and exporters, kiwifruit must be traded freely and fairly," he added.

In a statement, T&G said it welcomed progress apparently being made in free trade talks with the Indian Government, but it also said that, as part of deal, the Indian Government would "rightly be investigating barriers to trade and investment like New Zealand's anti-competitive export monopoly on kiwifruit".

A total of 28 business leaders have reportedly accompanied NZ prime minister John Key on his visit to India, including Zespri chief executive Lain Jager.

Sales of New Zealand kiwifruit to India are currently worth NZ$2m (US$1.6m) a year, but have the potential to increase dramatically were existing high import tariffs and taxes to be removed under a future free trade agreement between the two countries.

"This year we'll sell about 120 tonnes of kiwifruit in to India, but by 2015 that's more likely to be 5,000 tonnes so we're looking at a four or fivefold increase over the next five years," chief executive Lain Jager told reporters.

'Rank amateur'

New Zealand trade minister Tim Groser, also part of the delegation, reacted strongly to Gibbs' comments.

"You have to be brain dead not to think there's a connection between that extraordinary achievement of our kiwifruit growers and the degree of control they exercise over their future and marketing," he said, adding that Gibbs was a "rank amateur" with whom he was not willing to enter a debate on WTO laws.

Responding to those comments, Gibbs questioned Groser's judgement. "Groser in the last decade has been strutting around the world telling people how good he is.

"`The government` has deliberately misled the World Trade Organisation about `Zespri's` status and if anyone is brain dead it's Groser."

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