Wanted! New FTA Partners

by | Jun 29, 2021 | Trade Working Blog


New research commissioned by the NZ International Business Forum (NZIBF) identifies options for New Zealand’s next tranche of trade negotiations.

Trade is the country’s lifeblood and trade has boosted the economy during the pandemic.  Getting products to market is critical. New Zealand has done incredibly well over the last thirty years to open new markets, but now is the time to start thinking about potential new targets.  That’s why NZIBF has commissioned Sense Partners to provide a forward-looking, data-driven assessment of priority partners for the future.  The report – “Wanted! New FTA Partners” –  is being released at simultaneous events in Auckland and Wellington on 29 June 2021.

Busy trade agenda

New Zealand’s trade negotiating agenda is entering a new phase.  The “mega-regionals” have now been completed – the little known RCEP and earlier the very well-known CPTPP.  This means that New Zealand’s long-term strategy of seeking transformative agreements with partners in the Asia Pacific region, first outlined in the early 1990s, has largely run its course.  

That does not mean of course that the region is trade barrier-free: some of the agreements we have negotiated still do not provide tariff-free market access, especially in dairy and meat, with important partners like Japan, Korea and Canada. We have to work to upgrade and expand existing agreements, as we have recently done with China, and we have important negotiations with the EU, the UK and others to complete.  The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is badly in need of attention.

Trading ahead

The report notes that despite our success New Zealand still has no existing or planned preferential market access with almost 40 percent of the world’s economy and consumers.  While the United States comprises a significant proportion of this, there is plenty of scope to start now to look at expanding trade relations with a range of other partners.

The report notes that despite our success New Zealand still has no existing or planned preferential market access with almost 40 percent of the world’s economy and consumers. 

The report uses a “FTA Partner Suitability Index” to identify some 22 economies which New Zealand should be thinking about seriously with an eye to future trade growth.  This is not one list to rule them all: some of the potential partners present negotiating difficulties; others are not well-known to New Zealand. What is important is that we start the process of thinking about future partners and how best to engage with them, whether on the basis of high quality and comprehensive FTAs or other means. We should be thinking too both about our traditional areas of export strength and also how to include new sectors like services, digital and the creative economy as well as the needs of SMEs, Māori business and women entrepreneurs.

What’s next ?

We’re keen for feedback on these ideas. The report is a means to develop a conversation with exporters, stakeholders and the Government about where our priorities might lie in the future, recognising that we have a busy agenda today to get on with and finish.

FTAs are not the only factor in developing export business.  At best they open doors which businesses can then go through and they provide an environment within which costs are lowered, time can be saved and risks are mitigated.  As the pandemic has shown, trade has continued to uphold the New Zealand economy through the crisis.  Other storms are likely to appear in the future and while we are rightly doing the business of today, it is useful to build for tomorrow.

This post was prepared by Stephen Jacobi, Executive Director of the NZ International Business Forum. Read the Sense Partners’ report here.


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