NZIBF 2021 Chair Report

by | Jan 11, 2022 | Reports & Publications

The NZIBF Board meets with Indian High Commissioner H E Muktesh Paredeshi at its last meeting for 2021.

ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

15 DECEMBER 2021

CHAIR’S REPORT

I am pleased to present my first report on the activities and achievements of the NZ International Business Forum (NZIBF) for 2020-21, our fourteenth year of operations.  At the outset, I would like to acknowledge and thank my predecessor, Malcolm Bailey, who guided the organisation so well during his five-year tenure.  We are pleased that Malcolm continues to serve on our Board in his capacity as Chair of the Dairy Companies’ Association (DCANZ).

Over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to disrupt the lives of citizens and the global economy.  While trade and growth both enjoyed an uptick, supply chains have continued to face significant turmoil as a result of capacity constraints and the high cost of shipping.  Markets have been disturbed as economies have gone in and out of lockdown.  Here in New Zealand, while we may have thought the disturbances of 2020 were behind us, we were reminded about the pandemic’s long tail when Delta arrived in August.  As I write this, Auckland has just passed 100 days in lockdown which has proved close to ruinous for many businesses.  The inability to connect in person with customers offshore has also grown in difficulty, something we have expressed directly to the Government.  Exporters, as well as tourism and education providers, are keen to see the border re-opening slated for the first trimester of next year.  

NZIBF operations have had to adapt to this new environment with international travel curtailed and meetings transferred online, most particularly in the case of APEC and the work programme of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), which has been held entirely virtually. This has not prevented the continuation of our advocacy to the Government and stakeholders in New Zealand of the importance of international trade and open markets and the role trade can play in the recovery from the pandemic.  I met with the Prime Minister and Ministers of Trade and Foreign Affairs early in the year and was pleased by their response to our representations.  

We have kept in close touch with officials on the ongoing implementation of the Government’s Trade Recovery Agenda and it has been pleasing to see the practical steps taken to assist exporters and that the pace of trade negotiations has not slackened.  It is however important that in continuing with the current trade agenda, we also maintain some capacity to think about the future.  In July we released our report “Wanted! New FTA Partners” prepared for us by John Ballingall at Sense Partners; the launch was well covered in local media and we will want to continue to put the report’s conclusions before Government in the year ahead.

It is appropriate to record our satisfaction with the number of trade “wins” that have been achieved and for which we congratulate Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Trade Minister Damien O’Connor as well as their officials. These wins include the China FTA upgrade, the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement, and the Agreement in Principle for the NZ/UK FTA. All three have been the subject of significant input from NZIBF and all three will deliver value for New Zealand’s trading interests, but the NZ/UK FTA is possibly the most commercially significant.  A considerable effort is now underway to conclude the negotiation, without any of the high-quality elements, especially in terms of market access, being lost.  In the coming year, we will want to expand our engagement with UK business allies which we started in London in October 2019 and have maintained online in the interim.  Beyond these negotiations, NZIBF is also monitoring closely developments with the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), and the Digital Economy Partnership (DEPA).

Other key relationships have also been a focus of attention in the last year.  The NZ/EU FTA continues to make steady if slow progress and remains subject to political hesitation among certain member states.  That is unfortunate as it is surely now the time to put behind us longstanding differences about agricultural market access and move on to develop an agreement that speaks to future opportunities.  We were disappointed that India withdrew from the final stage of the RCEP negotiation and hope that India can find its way back to the agreement at some point in the future.  We see merit in upping our engagement with India and continue to reflect on how this can best be achieved.  The relationship with China has come under pressure as New Zealand balances a number of interests, but there is no doubt that in trade terms China remains a very good customer for key export sectors and for both larger and smaller businesses: with continuing careful management, we do not see this changing in the near term, but welcome additional options for exporters opened up by new trade agreements.  We continue to hope that the United States might at some point find its way back to the trade liberalisation space and see value in expanded engagement with our American friends at senior levels of government and business.  

New Zealand’s host year of APEC has enabled the Government, at a challenging time, to play an expanded leadership role in setting the economic direction for the Asia Pacific region.  Our own contribution has been in the form of the executive and financial support we have offered, since 2009, to the three New Zealand members of ABAC and the Chair’s involvement in APEC NZ’s  Business Leadership Group.  This has been supplemented since January 2020 by the opening of a shared office in Auckland, located (with thanks to Michael Barnett) in the building of the Auckland Business Chamber. We are grateful to the ABAC NZ team for their efforts, especially ABAC Chair Rachel Taulelei, and NZ Members Malcolm Johns and Anna Curzon (appointed in January). We also acknowledge the contribution of our Executive Director Stephen Jacobi and Associate Director Stephanie Honey who have led the ABAC policy machinery, quickly adapting ABAC processes to the virtual setting.  The ABAC staff team also comprises our Associate Director Fiona Cooper and Board Secretary Christine Connon, along with new team members Glen Candy (business outreach) and Carrie Stoddart-Smith (Māori engagement).  We are pleased to see ABAC keep a tight focus on matters of interest to NZIBF including WTO, FTAAP, digital trade, sustainability, and making globalisation work better.

To support our advocacy work through submissions and liaison with officials and business allies, we have continued to good effect our regular media and public commentary. We have launched a new Trade Works website, with improved navigation features. Our social media following continues to grow.  

The NZIBF Board met four times last year and I should like to thank my fellow Board members for their continuing support.  We extend our thanks and best wishes to John Loughlin, Hon Simon Power, and Alan Pollard who left us this year, and were pleased to welcome Sirma Karapeeva (Meat Industry Association) and Andrew Bashford (Westpac). We thank also our associate members for their support. We have continued to provide funding and directors to the NZ China Council and have supported the Council’s research on NZ/China trade.  The Board is also grateful for the hard work and dedication of our executive team, under the leadership of Stephen Jacobi, who ensures the high-quality output for which NZIBF is well known.

As New Zealand’s pandemic focus shifts from lockdown to vaccination, there will be increasing opportunities to engage domestically and eventually internationally.  This cannot come soon enough for us at NZIBF.  It coincides with the development of our new strategic plan and we look forward to continuing to maximise opportunities for nurturing and growing New Zealand business’ integration in global markets.

Philip Gregan

Chair

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