The China-New Zealand relationship, both trade and cultural, is in good shape irrespective of different views on some issues.
That was the message from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Minister of Trade and Export Growth David Parker and Chinese Ambassador Wu Xi to more than 300 delegates attending the 2020 China Business Summit, organised by NZ INC. and Auckland Business Chamber.
Ardern said China is one of New Zealand’s most important relationships. “Our countries have different perspectives on some issues, and I expect we will continue to have these into the future.
“That is normal – given countries’ particular histories, political and legal system. Our relationship (with China) is a mature one in which we can manage differences constructively and professionally.”
Ardern said that curtailing Hong Kong’s open governance and judicial independence without proper involvement of the city’s institutions directly impacted on thousands of New Zealanders living in or with close ties to Hong Kong.
“Many New Zealanders have invested in Hong Kong or do business there because of its independent judiciary and high degree of autonomy. It is, then, quite natural for us to raise concerns about Hong Kong’s security law – we believe we are representing real and actual issues for New Zealanders.”
She said the China-New Zealand partnership continued to deliver benefits for both countries, supported by two-way trade exceeding $32 billion last year (from $8.6b in 2007), a New Zealand Chinese community of more than 200,000, and historical cultural ties between Māori and Chinese.
While goods exports to China have recorded some declines through the coronavirus pandemic, certain sectors have done well, Ardern said. New Zealand meat exports to China grew 24 per cent in May and 16.8 per cent in April compared with the same time last year, and dairy exports were up almost 25 per cent in the first five months of 2020.
“My congratulations to all of the exporters in the room this morning – you have been dealt a difficult set of circumstances, but have risen to the challenges presented.”
With tourism and international education severely impacted by the Covid crisis, Ardern suggested there was the opportunity of a reset for both sectors by moving from a volume to value approach. “Covid has provided a new platform for engagement.”
Ardern said the upgrade of the New Zealand-China free trade agreement will provide new access into services markets in China, tariff elimination on wood and paper products, improvements in customs procedures and a new chapter on e-commerce.
“The upgrade will ensure that the rules underpinning our bilateral trade are responsive and fit-for-purpose.”
Parker said China was one of New Zealand’s most important relationships, and New Zealand is now China’s largest overseas source of food. “Who could have imagined this just 15 years ago when there were not even any direct flights between our two countries. We have come so far.”
Parker visited Shanghai in November, and “I heard first-hand of China’s firm commitment to open markets and the rules-based international trading order” during the World Trade Organisation mini-ministerial meeting, as well as at the second China International Import Expo. “New Zealand’s participation in these events sends a strong signal to the world of our mutual commitment to free trade.”
Earlier this month China joined the Singapore and New Zealand-led ministerial statement on trade connectivity that includes nine other countries. Parker said “together, we have committed to refrain from imposing export controls or tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and to removing existing trade-restrictive measures on essential goods, especially medical supplies.”
He said China and New Zealand also came together in May to support the APEC commitment that ensures trade and investment continue to flow to help counter the impact of Covid-19.
“This commitment will promote a more stable trading environment for our food exporters. It will also help provide reliable access to the critical medical supplies we need.”
Parker said said government had allocated an additional $216 million over four years to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise in the May Budget to provide on-the-ground support for exporters while their travel remains restricted.
NZTE has teams of business development managers in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu ready to help exporters.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade will also lead a cross-agency group to assist exporters in-market, and scale up its economic diplomacy effort including increasing the flow of market insights.
Parker said “even though we will continue to have differences with China, China and New Zealand will continue to be important markets for one another’s businesses. Differences need not define our bilateral relationships, to which we remain committed.
“New Zealanders expect the government to expressly defend our values, irrespective of the size of the issues. We take pride in our values and are respected for this.”
Madame Wu, the Chinese Amassador to New Zealand, said Covid was “not pushing us apart; it has brought us even closer. Covid is a crisis, yet together we can turn it into opportunities.”
She said trade remains steady and New Zealand exports to China totalled $4.45b in the three months to June.
The fundamentals of the China-New Zealand relationship were strong – it has gone from strength to strength in terms of practical co-operation and with the FTA upgrade the doors can be opened wider, Wu said.
She suggested that New Zealand exporters could take advantage of the new Hainan free trade zone.
“No matter how the internal situation may evolve, China remains committed to globalisation and the path of mutual development. Covid has presented direct challenges to global co-operation but we believe globalisation is here to stay.”
– Graham Skellern, © NZ INC.