Save our fries: frozen chips from EU threaten to wedge New Zealand farmers

European nations hammered by multiple lockdowns are dumping tonnes of frozen fries into the southern hemisphere, prompting the New Zealand government to open a formal investigation.

New Zealand had a seven-week lockdown in March and April but since then has largely returned to normal, with the hospitality sector back up and running.

The producers’ body Potato New Zealand said countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium had “deliberately targeted” the New Zealand market with their discounted frozen fries as the market for them had largely dried up in Europe due to coronavirus lockdowns.

Exports of frozen fries from the EU to New Zealand increased by 50% in June and the boss of Potato NZ, Chris Claridge, said the cheap fries were putting the livelihoods of his members in jeopardy.

A campaign to buy local fries has kicked off under the hashtag #saveourfries, and Claridge said consumers needed to start questioning the origins of their food if they wanted New Zealand growers to survive.

“We believe there has been a huge surge in volume coming to New Zealand and at discounted prices – which qualifies as dumping and will cause significant harm to our domestic industry.”

New Zealand is the first country to undertake a formal investigation, though the US and Australia have also called for duties or actions to limit what they see as under-priced EU fries. The South African Vegetable Processors Forum is lobbying its government to take anti-dumping measures against EU exports.

Adam Dubas, of the New Zealand ministry of trade and business, said the investigation into illegal dumping could take up to six months.

Dubas said provisional anti-dumping duties might be imposed to prevent injury occurring to local growers during the period of investigation.

New Zealand wine and speciality cheese producers have also started to raise concerns at dumping of cheap European product as consumers tighten their purse strings.

The New Zealand potato industry is worth more than $NZ1bn per annum and until now 85% of the fries consumed in New Zealand have been produced by local growers.

“Our hospitality sector is still alive, it’s still functioning, we’re not in lockdown, so we believe we’re being targeted because our economy is still viable and operating,” Claridge said.

“So what we would like people in New Zealand to ask is: where are my fries from? The New Zealand agriculture sector needs to be supported.”

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