Remarks to Te Taumata Hui, Gisborne/Turanga

21 July 2020
Stephen Jacobi – Executive Director, NZ International Business Forum

It’s great to be with you today and thanks to my friend Chris Karamea Insley for the kind invitation to join you.

I feel a little out of place on a “government” panel, as I represent the members of the NZ International Business Forum, who are firmly on the business side – that said, I was once a public servant and I am hopefully here to help you !

NZIBF brings together major players in trade, including Sealord; our members in the dairy, meat, horticulture and wine sectors employ thousands of Māori workers and have Māori shareholders.

Chris suggested I speak about business post recovery.

While we in New Zealand may be in recovery mode, the rest of the world is most definitely not: it appears the pandemic has yet to run its full course, which is going to make doing business around the world – the business that is needed to sustain our economy – challenging at best.

The pandemic will, at some point, come to an end and minds will turn quickly to how to secure the recovery so that shattered communities and economies can be put back together.

It’s hard to predict of course but let me hazard one prediction (you heard it here first): things will not just be the same as they were before, or in the words of a famous basewball player: “the future ain’t what is used to be”.

It’s hard to imagine that a catastrophe of this scale could just give rise to business as usual and there are some very good reasons why it should not.

We may look back fondly to another time – say to January of this year, when the pandemic was a small number of unusual cases in Wuhan – but even then, the world was far from a certain place with widening conflict between the world’s largest economies, creeping protectionism and a climate change disaster growing in intensity.

To be sure New Zealand’s international business was proceeding at a fast pace with growing exports especially to China, Japan – the latter under the influence of CPTPP – the United States and the EU.

And goods trade has continued to hold up well through the pandemic even as receipts from tourism and international education have shrunk significantly.

MFAT tells us that NZ goods exports have not faced significant market access barriers over the period and the world generally has veered away from the protectionist reflex despite some initial moves to restrict medical supplies and even food. 

We can be thankful that Ministers in the WTO, APEC and G20 have sung from largely the same song-sheet when it comes to the need to keep markets open and trade flowing. 

In this period, we’ve also learnt a few things.

We’ve learnt that virtual can work and the “zui” is the new black – although how long international customer relationships can be effectively maintained in this way is not clear and surely at some point the need will grow to travel again, to network and to talk in person, kanohi ki te kanohi.

We’ve also learnt that the Government can actually be an important partner.

I have been struck at the vastly stepped up level of engagement between business and officials in recent months and they certainly deserve our thanks and encouragement.

It’s good news that NZTE is to be given more funding for expanding the reach of its services and to engage with more companies offshore.

It’s also good news that MFAT has been so active negotiating a series of innovative supply chain agreements with key partners that aim to bring as much certainty and security as is possible in today’s environment.

That’s alongside continuing the mahi on a number of other agreements – NZ/China FTA upgrade, NZ/EU, the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEEPA) and now also, NZ/UK.

The question for us today as we think about the shape of the recovery is how can we build things back better?

We definitely need to avoid the mistakes of the past and we will need to encourage  our Government to keep preaching the virtues of openness and global connectivity not just abroad but here at home too.

We have a unique opportunity to build in a greater focus on addressing and mitigating climate change and building a more sustainable, lower carbon future.

We need to develop greater depth and scale in our productive economy and open up new sectors and businesses especially in the Māori economy.

We will need to expand our interaction with government agencies and we will need to build new strategic alliances between businesses and sectors to maximise the value of our investment in market development.

We should make full use of upcoming opportunities especially APEC 21 which gives us in Aotearoa a unique opportunity to help shape the environment for trade and investment in the Asia Pacific region.

The APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), led by Rachel Taulelei, CEO of Kono, and which I am pleased to advise, is developing its programme for next year and will want to engage with you on what you see as priorities for business growth.

ABAC is the voice of business in APEC and provides advice direct to APEC Economic Leaders.

Some thinking on possible ABAC priorities for 2021 is beginning to take shape:  from addressing trade barriers and promoting supply chain connectivity, to developing principles of climate leadership to enhancing a more active transition to renewable energy as well as facilitating a more enabling environment for digital technologies.

I am pleased to see Carrie Stoddart-Smith with us today – Carrie has been helping us think through how best to engage with Māori business and we look forward to that programme getting underway soon.

We see three particular opportunities in relation to Māori business:

  • We can integrate a Māori business perspective in the ABAC work programme
  • We can strengthen understanding of Māori and indigenous business and economies more generally in APEC 
  • We can reflect and amplify Māori and indigenous business interests and concerns through the advice ABAC gives to APEC Economic Leaders.

This is something new for APEC and as we pursue this mahi we will be working closely with Taria Tahana and her colleagues at APEC NZ.

Lastly, as the recovery intensifies and takes hold, we need to keep in mind the big picture of why we are in the business in the first place.

Hopefully that’s because we want to improve the present and future well-being of our communities and because we have a care for the land and the environment that have been gifted to us nga tupuna tuku iho.

Whatever this recovery looks like, there will be a need to come together – to come together, like we have not done before, business and government, Māori and Pākeha, around a new strategy for a new environment, a new way of doing business adapted to the times we find ourselves in.

Today’s hui has marked an important start to this journey.

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