NEW Zealand’s grocery industry, at supply and retail level, needs to be seen to be jointly arriving at a basic and voluntary understanding on trade practices before a Code of Practice is legislated. There is little doubt that that the major upheavals in the Australian industry and last year’s kerfuffle over claimed Countdown activities will lead to a call for legislation similar to Australia being called for here. So we need to get in first and set discussions in motion with at the least, some simple levels of understanding.

Those should not be hard to iron out as already the industry has a substantial level of understanding on a variety of issues, but formalising it into a simple, less than onerous document, could ensure forward protection. The claimed 90 complaints against Countdown last year in the Commerce Commission’s brief clearly means there are some industry issues and not all confined to Countdown.

The Australian Code that came into effect last month goes out of its way to prohibit specific types of unfair conduct by retailers and wholesalers in dealing with suppliers and provides a clear framework for handling such problems.

While in New Zealand there is no formal Code, there has been general agreement for minimum standards of behaviour, but times are getting tougher and there are currently no rules to stop that standard slipping. Foodstuffs would appear willing enough, from off the record conversations, to participate and as Countdown’s parent in Australia is already part of the deal, would probably also commit. And there could be no reason why the Food & Grocery Council whose members would be the major beneficiaries, not to come to the table. The last thing the industry here needs is to have an unfavourable Code with unnecessary provisions foisted upon it and have a party such as the Commerce Commission be given powers to enforce issues that may be factual or fairytales. As they say in the movies – first in best dressed.

Peter Mitchell