To go or woe with the WTO?

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NZIBF 2023 Chair Report

by | Dec 7, 2023 | Reports & Publications

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I am pleased to present my third report on the activities and achievements of the NZ International Business Forum (NZIBF) for 2023-24, our sixteenth year of operations.  I am grateful to all Members and to our executive team for your continuing support.

As I write, we wait in anticipation for the formation of a new Government.  While the election has delivered change in political leadership, we are hopeful of a great degree of continuity in trade policy. It is appropriate to record our appreciation to the outgoing Government for their hard work on trade – former Prime Ministers Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins, and especially Trade Minister Damien O’Connor who until just recently was fighting the good fight at APEC in San Francisco. We have appreciated Minister O’Connor’s willingness to meet with us at six monthly intervals and hope this can be continued in the future. These remain challenging times for exporters where the support of the Government and government agencies is vital.  Our trading interests have advanced in recent years, particularly with the conclusion of UK and EU FTAs as well as progress in RCEP, CPTPP and IPEF.  These gains are not achieved without commitment, hard work and long hours both for Ministers and their officials.  We express our thanks and look forward to working closely with the incoming Government as it takes office.

Two issues/events have dominated our work in the past year.  First, the Board has for some time been concerned that the economic relationship with India was badly in need of re-invigoration.  Following a strategic assessment, the Board agreed to make India a major focus and we have worked hard, together with the India NZ Business Council and the NZ High Commission in Delhi, to develop some useful new engagement.  The Executive Director visited Delhi and Mumbai in November 2022 for this purpose and was fortunate to be invited to address a major business conference in Delhi in March 2023.  In August 2023 we partnered with INZBC and four other business associations to lead a delegation of 50 exporters to Delhi.  The delegation, thanks largely to the efforts of our Project Manager Glen Candy, received significant media exposure. These visits, and supporting activities here at home, notably our engagement with the Indian High Commission in Wellington, have served to raise the level of ambition for the relationship and to build valuable contacts on the ground in India.  Realising the ultimate goal of a comprehensive FTA with India is a long way off but there is much that can be done to expand the relationship in the interim. A long term, strategically-focused and collaborative approach is required, We will continue to work closely with INZBC, the incoming Government and diplomatic missions in Delhi and Wellington in the next period.

Our second major focus in the past year was our hosting of the first meeting for 2024 of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) in Auckland in February.  This is a big financial and logistical undertaking at the best of times and even more so in the middle of Cyclone Gabrielle which chose that day to come to land.  New Zealand’s “can do” attitude was clearly on display as major alterations had to be made to the three-day schedule.  Even so some 150 senor business delegates from around the Asia Pacific region who made it into Auckland enjoyed both a warm welcome and a substantive programme which allowed them to complete their agenda and also showcased New Zealand business capabilities. Our team led by the Executive Director is to be congratulated on a superb outcome which was brought home within budget. We appreciated also the key role of the event professionals at the Auckland Business Chamber, the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) as well as the financial contributions of our sponsors.

During the year we have continued to monitor closely developments with trade negotiations, participating in the Select Committee processes for both UK and EU FTAs and keeping in touch with officials on other negotiations including the WTO.  It was disappointing that the CPTPP Joint Ministerial Meeting held in New Zealand in July did not provide for participation by NZ business interests, which was something of a lost opportunity to highlight specific concerns as well as our support for the ongoing expansion and modernisation of the Agreement. 

Prior to the general election we developed a discussion paper on the future of trade policy and we used this to engage directly with the major political parties. While the term “peak FTA” appears to be gaining currency, we continue to see value in maintaining openness to new FTAs, although we recognise they may not be as transformational as ones negotiated to date.  As noted above, India remains a long term prospect and the United States shows no signs of wanting to re-join CPTPP. While some progress with both is being made in the Indo Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), especially through the Supply Chain Pillar, this will not address core market access concerns.  The United States remains, even without an FTA, a critically important partner for New Zealand.  At the same time we do not see any diminution in the importance of our largest partner, China, despite some economic headwinds and rising political risk.  We continue to support the great work of the NZ China Council, where we have three Board appointments, and thank the Government for their careful and balanced management of the relationship in what has become a turbulent geo-political environment.

As foreshadowed in my last report we have continued to pay attention, though our Digital Trade Working Group, to addressing barriers to paperless/data driven trade.  We have connected with the International Chamber of Commerce Digital Trade Initiative and engaged with the writers of MFAT’s Digital Trade Policy Review. It is now clear that this project needs considerable more leadership at the Government level to bring together policy/regulatory, technology and business capability aspects.  We have also furthered our reflection on the interface between trade and sustainability and have developed ideas to put to the incoming Government.

NZIBF has continued to provide high quality policy advice and support to the NZ Members of ABAC – Rachel Taulelei, Anna Curzon and Malcolm Johns, replaced in February by Brett O’Riley.  The Executive Director serves as Alternate Member and Stephanie Honey as Lead Staffer.  It has been particularly pleasing to see ABAC build on the achievements of New Zealand’s host year in 2021 and that ABAC NZ continues to provide strong advocacy on trade and investment, climate change, digital and Indigenous empowerment.

Our own policy and advocacy work is supported by an active media and public communications programme. Our Executive Director is regularly called upon for media commentary and is frequently invited to address major conferences. Our  Trade Works website is a rich source of information on New Zealand’s global trade interests and our own activities. We are active on social media and have successfully increased our following on LinkedIn this year, with our India engagements and the ABAC meeting featuring prominently, the latter through our latest video series.

The NZIBF Board met four times last year and continued the past practice of meeting with Ministers, senior officials and diplomatic representatives.  We extend our thanks and best wishes to those who left us during the year: Board member Michael Barnett (Auckland Business Chamber), Katherine Rich (NZ Food and Grocery Council) and Terry Meikle (NZ Apples and Pears). We are pleased to welcome Amy Tocker (Māori Kiwifruit Growers) and Raewyn Bleakley (NZFGC) as new Board members and Simon Bridges (Auckland Business Chamber) as a new associate member. We thank all our associate members for their support.  As always the Board deeply values the contributions of our Executive Director Stephen Jacobi, who is ably supported by Stephanie Honey (Lead Staffer, ABAC), Glen Candy (Project Manager) and Christine Connon (Executive Assistant).  Our finances are well managed by the team at Business Central.

New Zealand is about to embark on a new direction in terms of the incoming Government, but for NZIBF Members and exporters generally it will mostly be business as usual – working to achieve value offshore and to ensure markets remain open, predictable and secure.  The times may be challenging but the core mission of NZIBF remains as always to ensure the integration of New Zealand and its businesses in global markets.

Philip Gregan, NZIBF Chair

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