Remarks to ‘Just Share’ Roundtable

REMARKS TO “JUSTSHARE” ROUNDTABLE

LONDON, 30 MAY 2018 

STEPHEN JACOBI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

NZ INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS FORUM

“THE TERMS OF TRADE: MAKING TRADE WORK – A NEW ZEALAND PERSPECTIVE”

Thank you JustShare and Fr George Bush at St Mary-Le-Bow for the kind introduction to join this distinguished panel for our discussion this evening.

I bring greetings from the other side of the world, from Aotearoa-New Zealand, where we too experience the need for a different kind of conversation about trade, one that puts people at the centre.

There is a much-loved saying of the Maori people – “He aha te mea nui i tea o? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata” – what is the greatest thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people”. 

For the longest time trade has mostly been a conversation about business, but, at a time when globalisation is under more intense scrutiny, it’s good to be talking about how trade can be made to work better for people.

It’s a particular pleasure for me too to be in this church of St Mary-Le-Bow – my mother was born within the sound of these bells: while she lived more than half her life in New Zealand, the spirit of the Londoner was always part of her and so I dedicate what I have to say tonight to the memory of Florence Alice Bennett.

I’d like to introduce tonight’s discussion with some initial thoughts – around New Zealand’s approach to trade, around some of the criticisms we see of globalisation today and how we might begin to address these.

New Zealand’s approach to trade

It’s sometimes said that to live in New Zealand and to be involved in trade, you have to be an optimist.

Our small nation of just 5 million people, once described as the last bus stop on the planet, is a long way away from global markets, yet we produce more food than we can eat and the small scale of our market means we can’t manufacture all the products we need.

Much of the history of our trade policy has been about trying to overcome what we call the “tyranny of distance” and trying to get closer to our trading partners.

Of course, New Zealand has some advantages – we are a developed economy, albeit with the economic profile resembling a developing country with a high proportion of primary exports; we have well-educated people, stable and for the most part reliable government, some world-class production capabilities, not just in agriculture and other natural resources, but also in niche industries and the new and “weightless” economy – the creative sector especially – and a “can-do” attitude.

As a small economy, we rely more than larger ones on the rule of trade law and especially on institutions like the World Trade Organisation, where we have never lost a dispute settlement case but have challenged successfully the EU, the United States, Canada and Australia.

The current trade friction in the WTO between the United States and China and the delay in appointing judges to the WTO Appellate Body is a particular concern.

We have also pursued high quality, ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreements with many partners especially in the Asia Pacific region.

Amongst others, we have FTAs with China, Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans Pacific Partnership – CPTPP – a veritable mouthful of an agreement – positions us well for the future, with new accessions to the fellowship of 11 existing partners, alas without the United States.

An FTA negotiation with the European Union is about to get underway and we have strong interest in a future FTA with Britain once the complex arrangements around leaving the Union have been sorted out.

New Zealand has long been attached to the concept of comprehensiveness – by which we mean including all products, agriculture as well as industrials, services as well as goods, investment as well as trade and the raft of other measures relevant to doing business in the 21st century.

Our newly elected Government is also keenly interested in the concept of progressive trade policy by which is meant trade to benefit everyone especially those who may not have participated fully in the past – women, small business, indigenous – and where the externalities of trade are better taken into account – environment, climate change, labour.

Our Government feels it can tell the story of trade better – three cheers for that – but that we also need a better story to tell.

Criticisms of globalisation 

Having a better story to tell has become more of a necessity in recent years.

Partly this is a response to public pressure – at the time of the signing of the first TPP (the one with the United States…) in Auckland in February 2016, the city was gridlocked by protestors.

While the protestors’ specific concerns were varied, they reflected world-wide unease about the pace of globalisation and a sense that the benefits had been poorly shared.

Trade is sometimes treated a little unfairly in these criticisms – technological advancement and the digital revolution have been greater drivers of productivity change and shifting patterns of employment – but it is certainly true that greater trade openness can lead to job losses in some sectors while job gains take time to realise.

But this is only part of the story – there is also the concern that by not including all sectors of the economy, some important gains of trade have not been realised.

Take women for example[1].

Women are certainly under-represented in export activity, and their participation tends to be concentrated in traditional sectors (agriculture, textiles and clothing) and a few service sectors (tourism, education and information communication technology services).

Globally, only one in five exporting firms are led by a woman.

Yet women-owned businesses which export report substantially higher sales than their non-exporting counterparts.

Exporting firms especially in developing countries also employ more women than non-exporters.

So, this under-representation matters, because we know that trade does bring benefits in terms of better jobs, higher wages and living standards and women appear to be missing out on these benefits.

Similar arguments could be made about the lack of inclusion of small business, as well as in New Zealand’s case the Maori economy valued at around $40 billion.

The point is that the argument is not just about individuals or sectors within an economy not sharing the globalisation dividend, it’s that the dividend is that much smaller because there is not better access and inclusion.

The more we can expand participation and inclusion, the better the results will be.

And this point is valid not just within economies but between economies as well.

As the World Bank tells us, trade has helped reduce by half the proportion of the global population living in extreme poverty (1990-2010)[2].

But in many parts of the world, and especially in Africa, the participation of countries in the global economy is hindered by production and export subsidies and continuing protectionism in the developed world.

That the global community could not find a way to conclude the WTO Doha Development Agenda, once dubbed “the development round” is a shocking indictment on all WTO members.

The risk of current global trade tension is that the needs of the poorest economies will once again be shoved to the back of the queue.

So, while we think about fostering greater inclusion at home, let’s also remember that the global environment has its particular and persisting forms of exclusion.

Finding solutions

What seems clear is that finding solutions to these problems, both local and global, will require some new thinking and a whole lot of us to do it!

This is not just something just for governments – it’s far too important for that!

Business has a role to play – not just because it is the right thing to do but because it is good for business.

Other stakeholder groups – including the church – have their own useful perspectives and need to be part of this conversation.

The good news is that business increasingly gets it.

I have the honour of serving as an Alternate Member of the APEC Business Advisory Council, a group of business leaders who advise 21 Asia Pacific governments on the APEC agenda for sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

Making trade and globalisation work better is a theme that has come up repeatedly in recent years.

Last year we tasked the MBA programme at the USC Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles to survey business opinion in the region and come up with some recommendations.

The Marshall School team report[3], based on close to 500 interviews with business and thought leaders in APEC makes for useful reading.

The team found that whereas 94 percent of those interviewed expected cross-border trade in the region would increase there were fairly high levels of uncertainty around the political environment for this growth.

Over 90 percent supported the idea of better policy approaches to manage adverse impacts of globalisation – over a third went further to suggest more radical approaches to better inclusion and fairer distribution of benefits.

Amongst the possible approaches cited include:

  • Creating “springboards” rather than just focusing on safety nets – citizens need to be assisted for the jobs of tomorrow not just for those of today
  • Promoting synergistic eco-systems – uniting governments, business, unions, education providers and other stakeholders to enhance opportunities for young workers, women and small business owners
  • Enhancing job mobility – fostering labour market reforms and adopting policies and programmes to help people to move where new opportunities open up
  • Reinventing life-long education – fostering greater resilience amongst workers to adapt to changing technologies and working conditions
  • Bringing business into this dialogue, engaging organized labour and having more conversations about income redistribution were also considered important.

Many of these recommendations focus on policies and programmes to accompany trade liberalisation.

But trade liberalisation remains important too.

We know that protectionism penalises small businesses more than larger ones because they lack the resources to address barriers head on or to find work arounds.

Reducing trade barriers and putting in place better trade rules, particularly ones that target inclusion and take account of the externalities of trade, are also building blocks for a fairer, more inclusive trading system.

Or to put it another way, protectionism and inward looking policies are a sure fire way of restricting growth and inhibiting social progress.

With a new generation of trade agreements, we can target more effectively women, small business and indigenous people.

New Zealand is a nation of SMEs with Maori and women wanting “in” more than ever before

It follows that if New Zealand wants to take a new giant leap forward into the global economy, it must do so off the back of SMEs.

Smaller firms say they find it hard to get hold of market intelligence and the information they need about trade requirements.

They often struggle to access foreign distribution networks and customers.

There’s clearly an information deficit, and a need to build deeper and broader international connections.

Red tape and compliance costs for meeting standards or regulatory requirements in overseas markets disproportionately affect smaller firms.

So CPTPP for instance contains specific commitments designed to make it easier for SMEs to do business in the region.

CPTPP governments have agreed to set up websites containing information about all aspects of the agreement – whether SMEs are looking for tariff rates, or Customs regulations or procedures, or information about technical standards or regulatory requirements, or relevant business, tax or employment regulations.

A working group will meet regularly to share experiences on best practice to support SME exporters, to identify ways to assist SMEs to take advantage of the new commercial opportunities generated by the agreement, and to develop capacity-building programmes, training and other forms of assistance, for example around trade financing.

I give this example not to praise the merits of CPTPP, but to illustrate that a new generation of FTAs, can be part of the solution to addressing inclusion and equity.

Conclusion

Kiwis are optimists when it comes to most things, trade included.

But if we are to make trade to work for people, we need both optimism and good ideas, to take us forward.

Tonight’s discussion is an excellent opportunity to engage all of you in that task and I’m delighted that a business guy from far away can share a perspective.

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

[1] Honey, Stephanie: Will CPTPP Offer Tangible Improvements for Women? – CIGI, Geneva, May 2018

[2] Lagarde, Christine: “Making Globalisation work for all” – address to Sylvia Ostry Lecture, Toronto, 13 September 2016

[3]APEC’s New Challenge – Inclusive growth througher smarter globalisation and technological progress” – a report by the USC Marshall School of Business, prepared for ABAC, November 2017

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