New Zealand exports hope: Health minister signals potential policy shift for natural products, but detail in short supply

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Associate health minister Casey Costello on stage in Napier.
Associate health minister Casey Costello on stage in Napier.

Related tags New zealand Policy

New Zealand’s associate health minister has attempted to assure industry players that they will have a modern regulatory regime that will boost exports while cutting red tape, but refused to commit to exact timelines for both quick wins or longer-term policy implementation.

Industry association Natural Health Products New Zealand (NHPNZ) has been battling for years to get a new, export-friendly and up-to-date regulatory regime in place, with the current rules for dietary supplements dating back to the mid-1980s.

Many believe this has stifled the growth of the sector, which has exports of around $650m. NHPNZ believes this could double within five years under a more favourable regime, especially if products can be exempt from the current pre-export authorisation requirement.

The latest development in the saga came last month when associate health minister Casey Costello said she would repeal the Therapeutic Products Act​ that was due to come into force in 2026. This Act had been drawn up by the previous Labour administration, before it was defeated in last November’s election and replaced by a National Party government in coalition with ACT New Zealand and New Zealand First.

The Act had received mixed reviews from industry, with many feeling it was overly bureaucratic and costly for natural products firms. But there were also fears that repealing it would lead to another protracted process of drawing up new rules.

Costello gave the opening address to the NHPNZ annual conference in Napier last week, were she stressed her support for the industry and pledged to create a regulatory landscape that "balanced risk with oversight and efficiency".

However, when it came to timelines, the only firm commitment she was able to deliver was on the repeal of the existing Act, which will be carried out by the end of the year.

However, she stressed that she was currently working with officials on “more immediate measures to support exports”​ which could “hopefully happen this year”​, while simultaneously working on a new, comprehensive Act.

Referring to extensive work undertaken for the 2026 Act, she stressed that the process wasn’t "starting from scratch"​, but she was unable to provide any assurances on dates.

“We recognise the value of this industry. I am listening and will continue to listen,”​ she said.

“I know we need to quickly find exemptions for exports as well as long term stability. I also know you have had many years of waiting for change. I am confident this time we will get something enduring because there is the political will to fix this.”

The New Zealand government hopes to double total exports in 10 years, and Costello highlighted its pledge to cut red tape and burdensome regulations across the board.

She also pointed to the free trade agreement with the EU, and discussions with the UAE, as examples of progress.

Health claims questions

However, when asked by NutraIngredients-Asia​ to share her view on whether natural health products could or should be able to make health or therapeutic claims, or if there were regulatory frameworks elsewhere in the world that she admired and could be used as a model for New Zealand, she said she couldn’t provide those details.

She did, however, add that the new regulations would be specifically for natural health products, and not bundled together with medicines and medical devices as it was in the 2026 Act

“The world wants products that are natural and safe, and based on tradition and science, and the country needs your export revenue and the jobs you create. The government is determined to help you grow and compete internationally,”​ she added.

NHPNZ director of regulatory affairs Samantha Gray said the association would "not be taking its foot of the accelerator"​ in relation to the exports exemption, and added it would continue to lobby for changes to the existing regulations to better facilitate health claims.

“We have to see where we can improve the existing regulations, as well as looking to any new ones, because in a few years’ time we could face the same situation again, if a new government comes in and decides it doesn’t want to proceed with what was produced.”

Both she and NHPNZ general manager Kerry Warn also thanked the industry and association board members for the extensive work they undertook in relation to 2026 Act.

“While the environment is looking different to what we expected, that work was very valuable and will not be wasted,”​ she said.

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