There is an increased likelihood that invasive species arrive in New Zealand from countries with poor regulation and low political stability, according to research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Research released this week from Victoria University of Wellington reveals that a country’s level of governance and development has a strong impact on their risk of exporting exotic species. The findings suggest that by choosing international trading partners more carefully, New Zealand could reduce the costs of tackling invasive species outbreaks.
New Zealand receives imports from all around the world accompanied by unwelcome invasive species. The invaders arrive from some countries more frequently than others. Researchers set out to investigate the relationship between trading partners and the threat they pose to New Zealand biosecurity, as invaders are a leading cause of extinctions and a consequential loss of biodiversity.
PhD student at Victoria University, Evan Brenton-Rule, considers the benefits of selectively trading with certain countries while acknowledging that it is an extreme approach:
“It’s worthwhile thinking about how international trade deals and a change in trading partners may impact the number of exotic species knocking on our country’s door. There are millions of dollars of control or eradication programmes at stake here, as well as potential biodiversity loss”.
According to co-author Professor Phil Lester, biological invasions cost New Zealand hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
“When you consider the amount that is spent on biological invasions in New Zealand, anything we can do to target our biosecurity resources and limit the number of invaders at our border would be extremely beneficial. For example, the eradication of just three small nests of the red imported fire ant into New Zealand cost in excess of ten million dollars.”
The study utilised ten years of data on trade interceptions at the border from the Ministry for Primary Industries and analysed international trade volumes from Statistics New Zealand. Over the period of ten years there were nearly 50,000 interceptions. If New Zealand were to become more selective in its trade partners, the authors expect that the number of biological invasions would be nine times lower, saving millions of dollars.
The authors suggest that wider implications of their findings could include policy changes:
“Development and governance within countries clearly have biodiversity implications beyond borders… These results will be of considerable value to policy makers, primarily by shifting quarantine procedures to focus on countries of high risk based on their socio-economic status.”
Dr Stephen Goldson, a Principal Scientist for Biocontrol & Biosecurity at Agresearch emphasises that the current science-based biosecurity trade rules have been carefully developed over many years. He describes a case-by-case approach, using scientific evidence to maintain a balance between ensuring biosecurity is protected and maintaining trade.
“While there may be some merit in taking such an observation into consideration, its broad application seems like a very blunt instrument that could greatly narrow New Zealand’s global trading opportunities and distort trade patterns. From an international-citizen point of view, does it mean that poor nations should languish in some kind of trade-vacuum in spite of what may be cost-effective production of valuable products and commodities?”
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