NZ/China – is our next big earner in front of us?

 As published in the NZ Herald on 3 April 2019.

Next month, hard on the heels of the Prime Minister, Trade Minister David Parker sets off for China for the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing.  He’ll join leaders from a large number of other countries keen to explore new opportunities under the biggest and most ambitious trade and development initiative we’ve seen for decades.

The timing is perfect.  Now the Prime Minister has visited, we are moving on from earlier uncertainty in the relationship.  We have the chance to take another step forward by demonstrating to our partners in China the unique value we can add to the Belt and Road Initiative.

What is that unique value going to be?  Clearly, we need big ideas to stand out.  We’re far removed from the trade routes most often associated with Belt and Road, linking China and other Asian countries and Asia and Europe.  As a developed economy we won’t be the recipient of concessionary finance for infrastructure.  We’re global traders, with other important relationships to nurture and a strong belief in the multilateral trading system and the rights of small economies in the international order.

But we may have a big and original idea, one that’s right in front of our noses.  It’s about making New Zealand a major and natural connection between China and South America – we’re calling it the Southern Link.

The numbers point to some serious opportunity.  Links between China and South America are booming, with plans to increase trade and investment significantly.  Putting New Zealand into this picture could mean increased passenger transit and airfreight, building on our expertise in trade and customs facilitation and supply chain connectivity.

It may sound idealistic.  We’re a geographically isolated country so we’ve never been seriously considered as a hub for global travel or trade.  It will come with major challenges.  But several factors play into our hand which make the possibility of a Southern Link a lot more realistic.

People movement between China and South America is increasing, but there are no direct flights. Broadly at the halfway point, New Zealand, whether Auckland or Christchurch, provides the shortest flight distance between certain Chinese and South American cities, including important routes between Shanghai, Guangzhou, Santiago, Buenos Aires and further afield.

A Southern Link could help assist and simplify e-commerce and traditional parcel post which criss-crosses the oceans between China and South America in ever-growing quantities.  In terms of tripartite cooperation, the idea also feeds into our goal of deepening our relationships in South America, building on CPTPP and the Pacific Alliance with Chile, Mexico and Peru.  While we have ample connectivity between China and New Zealand, boosting the connectivity between South America and New Zealand with added Chinese volume and capacity could lead to a host of new connections.

It shows the Belt and Road isn’t just about hitching your wagon to China’s star, either.  It doesn’t involve any surrender of sovereignty or raise the spectre of “debt diplomacy”.  What the initiative offers is the chance to build greater connections with other participating countries on a regional or even a global basis.

A conference to take place in Auckland on 25 June will explore the business case and value proposition for the Southern Link in more detail.  The NZ China Council and the Latin America NZ Business Council are teaming up with partners in China, Chile and Argentina to bring major players and decision-makers together.

For a century and a half, New Zealand has managed to turn its natural advantages into valuable export business.  We’ve overcome the tyranny of distance and transformed our economy into one that is outward looking and diverse.  Building the Southern Link represents yet another chance to turn the Kiwi number eight wire mentality into economic opportunity.

 

 

 

 

 

What is the new normal in New Zealand’s relationship with China?

On 26 February 2019 The Spinoff published Stephen’s article outlining recent developments in the relationship with China.  Read what he had to say here.

Trade in 2018 – still looking for that star !

Just as well the magi didn’t face tariffs at the border !  Here’s Stephen’s end of year round up!

 2018 will not go down in history as a good year for trade.  While international businesses struggled on, they did so against a backdrop of rising protectionism and all-out trade war between the world’s two largest economies. Will 2019 be any different?

 It sometimes said that not much changes in trade from year to year.  Not so in 2018 which was a year of two halves.

On the more positive side, some important new trade agreements were concluded.  Of course, here in New Zealand we’re thrilled about CPTPP* – a veritable mouthful of a trade agreement.  Rivalling it, if not in substance then at least in terms of an unpronounceable acronym, was USMCA*between US, Mexico and Canada – described unflatteringly by one commentator as “NAFTA O.8”. Then there was the linguistically more adventurous JEEPA – the Japan EU Economic Partnership Agreement.  Hats off to our Japanese friends – with CPTPP and JEEPA they have shown real global leadership in the cause of trade liberalisation (even if on agriculture they still need to fully overcome their worst instincts).

Trade restrictions, trade war, trade divorces

On the decidedly less positive side, protectionism has been let off the leash with trade restrictive measures in 2017-18 now seven times larger than recorded by the WTO in the previous period.  While the end of the year showed some, possibly only temporary, alleviation of the US China dispute, the consequences of the trade war have been felt in markets around the world as well as in the domestic economies of both presenting countries.  The impact on the WTO itself is most concerning. And de-stablising forces in the global trade architecture have also been felt in Europe, as the Brexit process has ground its way painfully towards an acrimonious UK-EU divorce.

What’s next for trade?

Where to for 2019?   The year will start on a positive note – CPTPP will enter into force for the six signatories with a first round of tariff cuts on 30 December with a second round for all except Japan on 1 January.  Japan’s second round of cuts will take place on 1 April. For Viet Nam entry into force and the two rounds of cuts take place on 14 January.  We expect at least one further accession to CPTPP in 2019, starting with the most likely candidate -Thailand.

Other important negotiations will continue during the year.  We are hopeful of progress with NZ/EUbut we are aware that these things take time and nothing will be concluded until everything is concluded.  We would be bold to forecast a conclusion to RCEP given past delays, but Ministers are on record saying this will happen by the end of the year.

On Brexit, who can possibly say what will happen?  There are differing views in our own team (here in the South Pacific!) but, notwithstanding the current polls, it does seem possible that calls for a second referendum will grow in intensity the closer we get to 29 March.    In November we published a discussion paper on New Zealand’s interest in a future FTA with the UK but much will depend on whether the UK exits the EU as planned on 29 March and on the shape of the future UK-EU relationship to be negotiated.  We forecast continuing uncertainty next year which is in itself corrosive to business and investor confidence.

Not out of the woods yet

We are not out of the woods on the trade war. President Trump’s dinner with President Xi at the G20 Summit resulted in a 90 day period during which both countries will refrain from new tariffs and return to the negotiating table.  That is positive, but a much-anticipated speech by President Xi on 18 December on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up will perhaps have disappointed – no new measures were announced to address issues in the Chinese economy which cause concern not just for the US, but others as well.

Come next December we hope we are in a better place than today.  Trade negotiators like the magi continue to follow the star.  Let’s hope like them we can continue to move across borders without disruption!

*   (1) CPTPP = Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans Pacific Partnership

(2) USMCA = United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement

(3)  RCEP = Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership

 

Watch Stephen discuss the implications of the US/China trade war

Stephen and Liam Dann, NZ Herald, discuss the fall-out from the first shots fired in Trump’s trade war:

NZ China Council releases Belt and Road report

On 1 May 2018 Stephen joined in launching the NZ China Council’s report “Belt and Road Initiative – A Strategic Pathway”, prepared by PwC.  Full details can be found at www.beltandroad.co.nz. Here’s what Stephen had to say at the launch:

It is a pleasure to be able to join in launching this report today and I want to add my thanks to Colum Rice and the PwC team, as well as our other partners who have worked together to help build this strategic pathway for New Zealand’s engagement in the Belt and Road Initiative.

I’m sure you all know already that BRI is aimed at achieving development-led growth along ancient trade routes linking China across Eurasia to Europe, as well as more modern trade routes including from China across the South Pacific to New Zealand and on to Latin America.

What is not so well known is how a distant nation like New Zealand can co-operate with this initiative and how it can add value to New Zealand’s relationship with China and other countries along the Belt and Road.

That is the purpose of this report.

In March 2017, New Zealand and China signed a Memorandum of Arrangement (MoA) under which the two countries undertook to explore ways of working together in relation to BRI.

In August 2017, the Council commissioned PwC under the leadership of Colum Rice to prepare a report which placed BRI in context for New Zealand and set out a range of options to enhance connectivity with China and other BRI countries.

The options outlined in the report are not intended to be exhaustive but an illustrative indication of what could be developed under this new framework.

Our intention is to begin a discussion with New Zealand stakeholders about BRI and we are starting this discussion today.

Having spent some time now thinking about the place of New Zealand in BRI, it seems to me that the best place to begin is not with a map of trade routes.

There are multiple maps in circulation about BRI and most of them manage not to include New Zealand!

Our report does have a map, as you see here, a rather complicated one, with New Zealand and the Pacific firmly on it.

For New Zealand, the starting point for any discussion of Belt and Road really has to be the positive relationship between China and New Zealand which has grown significantly in recent years and more particularly since the conclusion of our groundbreaking FTA.

As we consider the future of the relationship, it is clear to us at the NZ China Council that the future is not likely to be a continuation of the past.

For New Zealand, the strategic context for our consideration of BRI is how we can maintain the momentum of the relationship into the future.

Today New Zealand is facing greater competition than ever for attention in China.

Australia has negotiated a very good FTA, Chile has already upgraded its FTA, European states are making a huge push to develop people-to-people links, and countries in Europe, Asia and even Latin America are already staking out their roles in the BRI.

Our relationship with China is not just about trade and investment and nor is BRI.

What is clear is that BRI is at the centre of Chinese policy and at the very core of China’s country to country relationships.

BRI matters to China and therefore, if we want to continue to expand our relationship, it has to matter to New Zealand as well.

At the time of writing some 69 countries and organisations had identified that they wish to co-operate with China in BRI – the number has continued to expand to more than 80 today.

BRI is not without its sceptics and critics so we also need to be alert to the implications of a fundamentally bilateral initiative, with China at the centre, for the region’s wider trade and economic architecture, as well as any reputational or geo-strategic risks that might arise.

Our report identifies these risks and we have considered them in relation to the specific opportunities we have presented for further discussion.

It is really up to each country to decide for itself the extent to which they choose to engage with BRI.

Having already signaled a willingness to consider engaging with BRI, we in New Zealand must now do the work to determine the depth and breadth of our engagement, consistent with our interests and our values.

BRI is dynamic and continues to evolve as the priorities and interests of China and other Belt and Road countries change.

This changing nature of BRI means it can be challenging to define clearly the opportunities it presents and hence the need for guidance such as that offered in this report.

BRI is perhaps best known for its massive infrastructure construction programme, but it is important to note, as you see here, that infrastructure is only one of five policy priorities under BRI.

It is in the area of connectivity that the Council believes BRI could provide a significant opportunity for New Zealand.

This does not mean that there will not be opportunities in the infrastructure space, both in New Zealand and offshore, but the emphasis in this report is how we can leverage BRI to expand and enhance connectivity with China and other countries along the Belt and Road.

As well as putting BRI in context for New Zealand the report identifies a number of opportunities that can be further developed in a BRI framework.

As noted earlier these opportunities are not designed to be exhaustive but indicative of the range of projects that could be developed.

PwC engaged with our stakeholder group, to capture, first of all, a range of actionable options by identifying a wide variety of initiatives that New Zealand could pursue.

PwC then helped us narrow down the suite of possible options by assessing them against six key criteria:

  • Alignment with New Zealand’s comparative advantage
  • Value to New Zealand – with a weighting to those options which had broader application in BRI
  • Ease of implementation
  • Potential to interest our Chinese partners
  • Benefits vs costs
  • Reputational risk

The outcome of this “diverge/converge” process is eight specific opportunities grouped under four categories

Each of these has been assessed against the criteria and presents, we believe, a viable opportunity for New Zealand to engage with BRI.

All the categories are in connectivity space:

  • trade facilitation (incorporating biosecurity, customs clearance and supply chain hubbing)
  • New Zealand as a conduit to Latin America
  • innovation; and
  • the creative sector

Trade facilitation could leverage our world class biosecurity regime, expertise in cross border movement of goods, and experience in working across jurisdictions in supply chain hubs.

Our geographic location and existing trade and tourism relationships with China and South America position us well as a natural connection between the two.

In the innovation space, New Zealand can utilise its strong capability in science and technology and advance our existing collaboration and promote greater commercialization of ideas.

For the creative sector, opportunities exist to use creative strengths in web solutions, gaming and other properties to expand people to people links, cultural awareness, understanding and exchange.

These opportunities can be implemented by the two governments, agencies, cities or the private sector.

Under each category the report provides some further ideas that could be explored, representing different levels of engagement.

Some might well ask – aren’t these things we are doing already and the answer is yes!

But BRI is about leverage – how can we focus the attention of partners in China on these opportunities and open up new sources of support and funding by placing existing work streams in a BRI framework.

Going forward, we are particularly keen to engage with any groups interested to be part of the conversation and thinking about how they can be involved in BRI.

We are planning a series of discussions around the country with interested stakeholders – a Christchurch event will be held on 17 May and events in other centres will follow from July.

This morning we are also launching a dedicated Belt and Road page on the Council website which can serve as a repository for our report and New Zealand-related information and commentary about BRI.

The page – which will enable you to download the report itself – can be accessed from our website at www.nzchinacouncil.com or directly from www.beltandroad.co.nz.

The web page will help deepen New Zealanders’ understanding of BRI and inform the discussions we will be having around the country.

BRI represents an opportunity for New Zealand.

It is an opportunity which is up to us to grab hold of or leave to others.

We need to move forward aware of both opportunities and risks and determine how it serves our national interest to be involved.

The China Council hopes this report is the beginning of a national conversation and looks forward to pursuing that conversation with the Government and interested groups around New Zealand

What is China’s New Silk Road ?

Watch Stephen explain China’s “Belt and Road” Initiative to Eric Young on TV3′s AM Show on 11 July 2017

 

We cannot afford short term thinking with China says Stephen Jacobi

Read Stephen’s article in the NZ Herald calling for NZ/China relations to be more diverse and sustainable – here

Stephen talks with Duncan Garner about Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit

Watch Stephen talk with Duncan Garner on TV3′s AM Show about the visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang  

2017 – a year of growth and commemoration for NZ and China

This is an op ed Stephen wrote for the Chinese Herald, published on 10 March 2017.

2017 looks set to be an important and memorable year for the New Zealand China relationship.

Firstly, a visit to New Zealand by Premier Li Keqiang is expected in the coming months.  This is exciting news and demonstrates the great value China places on its relationship with us.  We can anticipate and look forward to renewed commitments to growing trade, cooperation in science and culture, people-to-people connections and more.

In the field of economic cooperation, this year has got off to a great start.  The Taniwha Dragon Economic Summit was held in February to promote opportunities for Maori led businesses with China.  These businesses already export $200 million a year to China, and the summit hoped to grow this number significantly.

There are some great projects around the country where Maori and Chinese are working together to achieve common goals.  I recently heard about Peppers Carrington Resort in Northland, where the new owner Shanghai CRED Real Estate is working with local iwi to ensure Maori cultural frameworks are understood and respected at the property.

Chinese language learning in New Zealand is getting a real boost this year, with the arrival of 144 Mandarin Language Assistants who will teach primary and secondary school students all over the country.  This is the largest number of assistants to arrive from China and shows real demand from schools for Chinese.

Later this year in Beijing a “One Belt, One Road” Forum is being held in Beijing.  That will be an opportunity for us to explore in greater depth how New Zealand can contribute to this bold new initiative on the part of the Chinese leadership, building on our membership of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank.

2017 is also a year of milestones.  This year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and New Zealand.  While many people may not appreciate the significance of this anniversary, it reminds us New Zealand was among the first Western nations to recognise the Peoples’ Republic of China in 1972.  Our relationship has since been marked by a number of other ‘firsts’, including our ground-breaking Free Trade Agreement which will be ten years old next year and which the two governments hope to upgrade before then

Another milestone being commemorated during 2017 is the 120th anniversary of the birth of Rewi Alley, the most famous New Zealander in China.  This year is also the 120th anniversary of Alley’s birth, the 90th anniversary of his arrival in China and the 30th anniversary of his death.  In both New Zealand and China this year Alley’s extraordinary legacy will be celebrated with a number of large events to mark the occasion.

The New Zealand China Council provides high level support for all these activities.  We are a small organisation, but our mission is big:  to demonstrate to all Kiwis that China is much more than a country to sell things to.  The Council is made up of a diverse group of influential New Zealanders, with interests ranging from trade and investment to tourism and education.  But the one thing that connects us is our passion and enthusiasm for China and the opportunities the relationship brings to New Zealand.

In the context of our wide-ranging relationship with China New Zealand’s large and growing Chinese community plays a key role.  We welcome you as immigrants and visitors to New Zealand and we are grateful for all you contribute to building diversity in our society.

We look forward to working hard throughout 2017 to share our enthusiasm for the New Zealand-China relationship with as many of you as possible.

Asia Pacific Integration – with or without the United States?

This is the text of an address Stephen gave to the Asia Forum in Wellington on 7 February 2017.

It’s good to be with you this evening and to have this early opportunity, as a new year unfolds, to speak about the outlook for trade and investment in the Asia Pacific region.

This year is definitely not a case of “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. 

A new President in the White House is challenging the model of past American leadership in the global economy and with that long-held principles and practices of economic co-operation and integration.

This coincides with a new questioning around the world of the process of globalisation, how its benefits are shared and its challenges managed.

I am perhaps a little brave, at this early stage, in accepting Farib’s invitation to explore these issues – the President has been in office for less than a month (somehow it seems longer!) and his Administration is not yet completely in place.

I am certainly of the view that we need to let time elapse before being too definitive about the policy choices New Zealand might have to make in the light of these profound changes in the global environment.

It is not too early to start thinking about how we might position ourselves and so tonight I’d like to explore with you:

  • firstly, where the process of economic integration in the Asia Pacific region has led us thus far
  • secondly, how this process might be challenged in the months to come
  • and lastly, what we here in New Zealand need to be doing.

I’m speaking to you this evening mainly from the perspective of the NZ International Business Forum, a group of senior business leaders concerned with New Zealand’s engagement in the global economy.

These themes are relevant across the range of my work with organisations including the NZ China Council, the APEC Business Advisory Council and the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum.  

Economic integration – how far have we come?

One of the much repeated criticisms of the ill-fated Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) was that it was not a trade agreement at all.

I read as much in a recent blog on the website of the Foundation for Economic Education.

Rather than a simple agreement to lower tariffs for mutual benefit, the writer alleged, TPP morphed into a massive international regulatory regime over 5,000 pages long. It was weighed down by numerous non-trade provisions aimed at appeasing non-trade special interests”[1].

It’s not the purpose of my remarks tonight to attempt to rebut the many criticisms of TPP but this particular one calls for a little more economic education!

Of course TPP was a trade agreement – the larger part of those 5000 pages are taken up by complex schedules outlining the process for the elimination of tariffs.

(We can debate whether TPP is a “free” trade agreement since in some limited cases, albeit ones of interest to New Zealand, the goal of zero tariffs was not reached).

But there’s a much bigger picture here and it’s really not complicated – trade is not trade anymore.

Trade has been replaced by a set of much more complex economic interactions between firms and whole economies.

Professor Peter Petri and colleagues, in a report to ABAC in 2015, captured this well when he said:

“Businesses (today) engage in more varied activities, with a wider range of partners, and in more markets than ever. Major technological and economic trends are disrupting the business environment, including the emergence of global value chains, the digital/Internet revolution, the rise of a giant middle class, and dramatic improvements in connectivity[2].

Many of the objections to TPP overlook the fact that the business model in the region has changed and that global and regional value chains, where production occurs across multiple jurisdictions, are, in the words of Professor Petri, “an Asia Pacific innovation”.

New Zealand is not immune from this movement.

New Zealand manufacturers and processors of natural resources including food and forest products are suppliers into these global value chains.

As my friend John Ballingall from NZIER suggested in a recent op ed: “The days of Kiwi firms shipping butter and whole sides of lamb direct from the processing plant to the end consumer are long gone”[3].

Research undertaken by NZIER for the Pacific Economic Co-operation Council (PECC) shows that while New Zealand is struggling to lift its overall participation in GVCs we do much better in relation to agriculture and food and beverage production.

To quote John Ballingall again:  “This world of global value chains (GVCs) poses a number of challenges and opportunities to Kiwi firms, and forces policy-makers to think in non-traditional ways. What’s been done in the past is unlikely to be ideal now as New Zealand looks to boost its productivity and living standards”.

It was precisely to try to find new ways of incentivising and enhancing access into these global value chains that TPP was conceived.

In that sense TPP represented an effort for the regional framework of rules for trade and investment to catch up with the action – even if in the end it was a very long and tortuous process.

Hence the need for the agreement to cover not just tariffs but non-tariff barriers, not just goods but services, not just trade but investment, not just border measures but behind the border measures, not simply regulatory harmonisation – as the writer of that blog contends – but processes for regulatory coherence and convergence, not “one size fits all” but “one fit for all sizes”.

I promised this wouldn’t become an apologia for TPP but simply put TPP was trying, in all its insufficiency, to reflect the new reality of the way business is done in the region and beyond.

The fact of the matter is that business is moving faster than the regulatory system and has been doing so for some time.

TPP was one instrument for achieving economic integration – certainly something less than the utopia of free trade but a very good second best option.

TPP is not the whole answer either – it is a coalition of twelve willing partners, which was always designed to lead to something much larger, an APEC-wide grouping gathered together in the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP).

Nor is TPP the only such pathway to FTAAP.

In Asia there is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

I’m tempted (but it would be unkind) to describe RCEP as a coalition of 16 unwilling partners, given the rather limited level of ambition, which seems to characterise the negotiating process.

It is important to stress that RCEP is not the forum in which China, as our American friends would have it, “is writing the rules for the region”.

RCEP is led by ASEAN, not China, and while on paper seeks an ambitious outcome, is mostly about ASEAN integration with the rest of East Asia.

For its part China remains very interested in the concept of the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP).

In his address to the APEC CEO Summit in Lima last November President Xi Jinping described FTAAP as a strategic choice concerning the long-term prosperity of the Asia-Pacific; We should steadfastly promote its construction and provide institutional guarantees for fostering an open regional economy”[4].

President Xi also expressed a preference for inclusiveness:

Any regional trade arrangement, in order to earn broad support, must be open, inclusive and all-win; closed or exclusive pacts are not the right choice”.

Finding a way to realise the FTAAP vision has been difficult.

The theory was that TPP and RCEP, once concluded, would coalesce into FTAAP which would be anointed by the coming together of China and the United States in a new framework which could spark life into a global process in the World Trade Organisation.

Hope clearly springs eternal in the realm of trade negotiations!

Challenges to the existing order

The arrival of President Trump in the White House has clearly put paid to much of this grand strategy – at least for the time being.

His decision to withdraw from TPP was easily done, if fundamentally flawed – after all, he was withdrawing from a treaty that had not come into force, the benefits of which had not been fully seen.

But there are broader issues at play.

His “America First” policies, including the call to bring businesses back to the USA, pose a direct challenge to the prevailing business model in the region.

His stated preference for bilateral deals runs counter to the quest for a region-wide framework of rules for trade and investment.

These rules seek to make doing business easier while avoiding the infamous “noodle bowl” effect of conflicting and overlapping disciplines.

Any future adventurism in US foreign policy, particularly with regard to China, could serve to destabilise the stability and security of the region.

This stability is a necessary pre-requisite for advancing economic and commercial interests.

All of this reverses former President Obama’s policy of seeking to engage more directly in the region through the “Asia pivot” of which TPP became, more by association than by design, the flag-bearer.

It may well be of course that these worst fears may not be realised – as I said, these are very early days in the life of new Administration.

But even at this point it is not hard to see that there could be a departure from what we have known of American leadership in the region.

In a recent memo the respected head of the American think-tank CSIS, John Hamre, writes that we are back in 1949 – a time when President Truman faced an existential choice about whether to concentrate on domestic growth and competitiveness at the expense of global recovery after World War II.

Hamre writes – we are back to the great challenge that faced President Truman. Will America shake off its deep- seated desire to pull back and nurse its bruises, or will it champion an international order designed to create a broad environment where human potential can blossom?[5]

It was after all American leadership, which imposed a benign order on the region after the conflict of the last century.

It was this leadership, which helped secure the emergence of the World Trade Organisation as the repository of trade law and a framework for settling disputes

It is this leadership, which has in more recent times, trialled new arrangements for trade liberalisation through NAFTA and a range of other agreements, and helped shape the new business model we see today in the region.

This is not to say that the existing order is either perfect or sufficient – clearly it was not.

In the economic space that order has come under intense criticism.

There has been criticism for failing to take sufficient account of environmental and sustainability issues.

There has been a perceived failure to ensure that those who are disadvantaged from the adjustment brought about by changing patterns of production and trade are appropriately cared for and helped into new areas of enterprise.

And there is the criticism that economic integration has served to advance the interests of multinational corporations especially through measures aimed at stimulating and protecting investment or through the rules being devised for the digital economy.

“Making globalisation work for people” is not just a slogan – it has become a policy imperative in the age of Brexit and Trump.

So, in 2017, we face not only the prospect of new direction from the United States on trade, we face new challenges from within about the nature of the very order that has served us well in the past.

 What should New Zealand do?

In this context, what is to be done by a small, open, trade-dependent economy like New Zealand?

It needs to be recognised that this is not the first time the core assumptions of New Zealand’s trade policy have been challenged.

When Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973 we faced the herculean task of diversifying our economy while hanging on tooth and nail to our access for butter and sheepmeat.  (How ironic that today we’re back again talking with Europe and Britain!)

In 1983 we sought to break out of a straightjacket of protectionism and economic befuddlement when we concluded CER with our best friends the Australians – that living and evolving agreement remains a bedrock of New Zealand economic success.

In 1993 when the outcome of the GATT Uruguay Round was in doubt, we made it known that New Zealand was open to the concept of high quality and comprehensive trade deals in the Asia Pacific region.

That ultimately led to FTAs with Singapore, Chile, P4, ASEAN, China and TPP – this sort of FTA coverage was unthinkable back in the day.

Today we see that New Zealand’s Plan A, focused largely if not exclusively around TPP, has gone off the boil and Plan B, is, to quote Prime Minister English, “tricky”.

What is Plan B for New Zealand?

It is certainly not a retreat into “fortress New Zealand” which makes no sense for a nation so dependent on trade and economic integration.

Nor is it a futile attempt to keep away from the controversial aspects of TPP and seek to negotiate more limited “market access only deals” – this merely denies the reality of value chains.

New Zealand after all is already largely a free market for others’ exports – most of them don’t see the need to reciprocate.

One key advantage today, which was not the case in 1973, 1983 or 1993, is that we have options.

Plan B is likely going to be a mix of things, both in the Asia Pacific region and beyond.

Among the latter are the emerging NZ/EU FTA and a possible post Brexit FTA with Britain.

Among the former are the initiative to upgrade our bilateral FTA with China and new initiatives like China’s “One Belt, One Road”, which we need to examine more deeply.

We certainly need to continue to seek a high quality, comprehensive and ambitious outcome from RCEP.

RCEP may not at present be an alternative to TPP, but is a useful initiative none the less, particularly for New Zealand if it delivers for us better access to Japan and India which we currently lack.

Then there the prospect of a TPP-like agreement amongst the remaining 11 members.

Australia, New Zealand and Singapore have expressed interest in exploring the options and Mexico has signalled that it wishes to explore bilateral agreements with the remaining members.

Japan, a key player, has recently said TPP is “meaningless” without the United States.

I think this Japanese reticence is entirely understandable and needs to be seen in the context of their critical security relationship with the United States.

On the other hand, Japan, like New Zealand and unlike other members, has already ratified TPP.

We need to let some quiet diplomacy proceed to see if the remaining 11 parties, or a sub-set of them, see merit in amending TPP to take account of US withdrawal.

This should include deciding whether or not to strip out of the agreement those things that were essentially US demands.

TPP (11) would not deliver the long sought-after FTA with the United States.

While China – under our shortly to be upgraded FTA – may have replaced the United States as our top trading partner, the US remains as important to us today as it was the day before the Presidential inauguration.

America is not just a major trade and investment partner – it is a powerhouse of innovation, entrepreneurship and business ideas.

New Zealand now has to find a way to engage and work constructively with the new Administration, even as we look to advance other options for growing and future-proofing our economy.

The way ahead is far from easy.

New Zealand has been seeking to obtain a bilateral FTA with the United States since the turn of the century.

Two problems have bedevilled that effort: first, a poor political and security relationship, which has now been fixed, thanks to efforts over years by certain politicians and diplomats on both sides, supported by leaders from business and the wider community gathered in the NZ US Council and its counterpart in the United States.

And second, on the economic front, the small size of the New Zealand economy and the perceived – if highly exaggerated – risk which our agricultural sector poses to American farmers.

This will make it difficult for New Zealand to get ahead in the FTA queue and may make a purely bilateral agreement ultimately no easier to negotiate than TPP.

While we simply do not know the detail of the new President’s trade policy, he is not likely to do us favours on agriculture and may seek to go beyond the TPP outcomes on issues like investment and intellectual property, especially medicines.

There is also the challenge of seeking improved visa access to enable New Zealand professionals to work temporarily in the US as many services exporters especially in the tech sector would wish.

To return to my favourite theme, there is much irony here – TPP’s lengthy negotiation was in part because the other 11 partners were seeking to counter the full extent of American ambition across a range of issues.

This was largely achieved: the final TPP text was a carefully structured consensus, which represented a balance of interests of all parties.

For New Zealand TPP delivered substantial benefits with little change to existing policies, even if we did not achieve all we hoped.

Conclusion

Will economic integration proceed with or without the United States?

The theme for my remarks this evening was framed as a question but perhaps it should have been an exclamation!

Economic integration driven by globalisation and commercial impetus is likely to proceed whether the United States ultimately decides to lead that process or not.

There may be holes in the boat, but it is not sinking – yet.

The question is more what sort of economic integration are we going to see and what will be the rule-making that shapes it.

New Zealand benefits from rules for trade and investment especially when we have had a hand in making them.

New Zealand does not have the luxury of closing off options before they have been fully explored.

We’ve been in this space before.

Today we are entering a new and uncertain period where old assumptions may no longer hold true, where old economic allies may not play the role we have become accustomed to.

This profound change requires fresh thinking from governments and stakeholders, together with perseverance and commitment, as we chart some new and potentially rough waters.

 



[1] Iain Murray: “Free Traders shouldn’t mourn the loss of the TPP” -https://fee.org/articles/free-traders-shouldnt-mourn-the-loss-of-the-tpp/

accessed 1 February 2017

[2] Peter A Petri et al: “The FTAAP Opportunity – a report to ABAC”, October 2015 – https://www2.abaconline.org/assets/2015/4%20Manila/FTAAP%20OPPORTUNITY%20(1).pdf accessed 1 February 2015

 

[5] John Hamre; “Memorandum to CSIS Trustees, Advisers and Friends”, 1 February 2017