Annual General Meeting
Wellington, 1 December 2016
I am pleased to present my first report on the activities and achievements of the NZ International Business Forum (NZIBF) for 2015-16. I must begin by expressing a debt of gratitude to our inaugural Chairman, Sir Graeme Harrison, for the fine work he did in establishing NZIBF in 2007 and leading the organisation for nine years.
This past year has been one of highs and lows. Following the conclusion of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), we were delighted that the agreement was signed by Ministers in Auckland in February 2016. NZIBF had led the business advocacy for TPP for several years and was active around the signing to offset the public opposition that was encouraged by those opposed to the agreement largely on ideological grounds. Prior to the signing, with the help of our advisors at Anthem, we had already upgraded our media and communications strategy and significantly expanded the Tradeworks website and social media platform. We continued this advocacy during the year as TPP continued to hotly debated and as the ratification process got underway through Parliament. Having made two submissions to the Select Committee process, we were pleased to welcome the final passage of the implementing legislation in November, only to see our hopes dashed as the US President-elect made clear he intended to withdraw the United States from the agreement. It was a supreme irony that this announcement came as the TPP legislation was signed into law in New Zealand.
We continue to believe that, while far from perfect in a number of respects, TPP made a major advance for New Zealand’s trade and investment interests, one for which at the present time an alternative seems far from assured. We congratulate Prime Minister John Key, former Trade Minister and now Ambassador Tim Groser, Trade Minister Todd McClay and Select Committee Chair Mark Mitchell for their leadership and perseverance in bringing TPP to a successful conclusion in New Zealand. We are grateful to Chief Negotiator Dr David Walker and his colleagues for their work over many years. While TPP may not enter into force for some time, if ever, the issues behind TPP remain and we at NZIBF remain committed to work with the Government to explore all other options for securing better market access, especially in Japan and the United States, and better rules for trade and investment.
The value from trade liberalisation can be shown by the early results from the Korea FTA which entered into force on 20 December 2015. In the first nine months since entry into force, New Zealand’s food and beverage exports to Korea have increased 16%, to $449 million, compared to a year earlier, with strong growth in exports of cherries, wine, butter and cheese. These are tangible gains which matter to business, workers and communities. There is more work to do to point out to New Zealanders the benefits that come from trade and investment and in the course of the year we have further strengthened our communications platform and added new social media channels to assist this effort.
NZIBF has supported the Government’s moves to conclude an ambitious Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which with the demise of TPP assumes a new significance as a pathway to freer trade in the Asia Pacific region. NZIBF participates alongside the East Asia Business Council (EABC) in a working group to achieve a strong outcome from these negotiations which are led by ASEAN. NZIBF has followed closely the Government’s intention to upgrade the existing FTA with China and is delighted to see that negotiations to this end will commence in early 2017. NZIBF has also supported the moves to initiate an FTA negotiation with the European Union, publishing with a number of NZIBF members, a study on the opportunities for New Zealand business which such an agreement would provide.
In the changed circumstances affecting trade, NZIBF is pleased to see the Government paying attention to a refresh of the Trade Policy Strategy which has guided external economic policy for over twenty years. NZIBF believes that a vehicle for greater private sector involvement in the setting of priorities needs to be established to ensure the implementation of the strategy meets business needs. This is particularly relevant in the area of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) which are growing in importance even as tariffs decline in some markets.
We are deeply concerned at the loss of bipartisanship in trade policy and regret very much that some parties in Parliament could not support TPP. While we may continue to disagree on some issues, we look forward to engaging with all parties in New Zealand to promote our trading interests.
This part year we were pleased to welcome a number of new associate members to NZIBF and we look forward to their continuing engagement and support. We have also continued to provide funding and directors to the Boards of the NZ China Council and the NZ US Council as a means of aligning our efforts in these key markets.
NZIBF provides policy advice to the three New Zealand members of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) and we thank them for the efforts on behalf of New Zealand business. ABAC meets four times a year to develop its advice to APEC Economic Leaders, The past year has seen a particular focus on NTBs especially in the food industry, which has complemented our efforts on other fronts. ABAC New Zealand has been active in championing these issues through the APEC Policy Partnership on Food Security (PPFS). As has become our custom we hosted Prime Minister Key at a well-attended APEC debrief with business leaders in Auckland in March.
The Board met four times last year and I should like to thank Board members for their continuing support. We have been pleased to welcome Alan Pollard, Chief Executive, Pipfruit NZ, and Brian Stanley, President of the Wood Council of New Zealand to the Board. Brian has replaced Peter Clark, Chief Executive, P F Olsen, who ably represented the wood sector’s interests around our table for many years. We thank Peter warmly for his contribution.
We are pleased to acknowledge the continuing support of the Prime Minister and his Ministerial colleagues and of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other senior officials. NZIBF is well served by a highly experienced team of trade professionals in Stephen Jacobi, Fiona Cooper Clarke and Stephanie Honey and the reputation NZIBF enjoys is thanks largely to their efforts.
There is no doubt that we face a challenging period ahead, but we remain resolute that the international framework needs to be improved if business is to lead global growth. As well as continuing to build the case for trade and investment at home we will need to engage proactively offshore to maintain a positive environment for business. At time of writing the way forward is far from certain and risks to our interests abound. While we rely on the Government to spearhead these efforts, leadership is required from business and NZIBF stands ready to work actively with government agencies, other business organisations and public stakeholders.