Nationally owned water brand proposed to bring public returns

By Talisa Kupenga

The Government is yet to announce its plans around a water bottling levy amidst an increase in bottling consents and the continued export of billions of litres overseas. But National's Gerry Brownlee is proposing a nationally owned brand as a solution.

Māori Council Executive Director Matthew Tukaki says, "Don't forget that...this bottled water is worth nearly a trillion dollars annually and that's no mean feat to get access to that market."

It's revenue the public gets little to no return on, something National's Gerry Brownlee wants to change.

"I think having a nationally organised brand that everyone had to buy in to with a very low fee for using that brand on each of the litres of water that they sell would be a good idea."

Tukaki says while it’s a good idea, there are many questions.

"What does the brand actually look like, who is going to own the brand, how is it going to be trademarked and copyrighted?  I think people need to remember that this significant and very valuable resource sits predominantly underneath Māori land and so we need to look at what that partnership looks like."

Bottled water exports have more than trebled since 2012 with nearly 40 billion litres exported in 2018.

Environment Minister David Parker says, "If you want to do something that only affects exported water you can only recover compliance costs, if you want to have something that's more significant it also has to apply to bottled water that's consumed in New Zealand."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says, "If we want to tackle that for offshore water bottlers...we would have to treat out domestic water bottlers in the same way because of our trade obligations. That has made finding a solution trickier."

A bottling levy proposal is expected at cabinet within two months but it will not include a moratorium.