Back to Basics: Reinvigorating the Trans-Tasman Economic Agenda

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Peter Woolcott, 3 May 2016

This is the first in a series of regular blogs that the Australian High Commission in Wellington will  present. These blogs will deal with issues as seen from a more personal perspective. It will not be just me who blogs on this site.  It will also reflect the thoughts of other senior members of the High Commission and the occasional guest blogger.  I will start with a few thoughts on the economic relationship between our two countries for it is this, and the people to people links, which is the bedrock.

I arrived in Wellington on February the 9th and my first task was to turn around and accompany Prime Minister Key to Sydney for discussions with Malcolm Turnbull.  Both Prime Ministers put the highest value on the relationship – and the choice of New Zealand as Prime Minister Turnbull’s first overseas visit was a reflection of this.  Both Prime Ministers understand business and do not take the economic relationship between Australia and New Zealand for granted.

It was clear from their discussions that they wanted a renewed focus on the Trans-Tasman economic agenda. To lift the hood on the economic motor and to make sure it was running ever more smoothly to the advantage of both economies.

It is only natural that governments and industry on both sides of the Tasman have been focussing on opening up larger and more difficult markets than on looking sideways at each other. And this focus has paid dividends – the suite of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) Australia signed with China, Japan and Korea last year are already reaping benefits to Australian exporters.  New Zealand’s FTAs with China, Korea and Taiwan have proved similarly beneficial.  Our shared involvement in the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement provides opportunities for growth and diversification in our export markets.

Opportunities with the European Union, South East Asia, India and the Middle East also beckon. Opening up these markets for our goods and services offer huge potential, the upshot of which means more jobs and higher incomes for Aussies and Kiwis.

But none of this means we should neglect our own neighbourhood. While our relatively small populations don’t offer the wow factor of China or India, they remain the basic fundamentals of our economies.  Australia is New Zealand’s largest economic partner.  Seventy-five per cent of Kiwi exporters generate income from Australia.  And Australia is responsible for more than half the foreign direct investment in New Zealand.

Likewise, New Zealand is Australia’s fifth largest export market and biggest source of tourists. An astonishing 17,000 Aussie firms do business with New Zealand every year – more than double that in any other market.

The trans-Tasman business environment is particularly important for our small and medium enterprises, whose first foray into exporting tends to be across the ditch. These businesses are the backbone of both our economies, employing over half the working population.  But they often struggle to gain a foothold in foreign markets.  Australia and New Zealand provide ideal launch-pads for each others’ small and medium firms, as well as opportunities for collaboration in third markets.  And as the most comprehensive and effective free trade agreement in the world, the Australia New Zealand Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (aka CER) also provides a template for what we can do with others.

But as technology marches on, new trading platforms emerge and trade agreements become ever more comprehensive, we cannot afford to sit on our hands. Both governments are committed to further enhancing the trans-Tasman ‘Single Economic Market’ as a fundamental driver of growth for both our countries.  We are focussing on a number of  areas which are seen as providing opportunities for collaboration and growth.  These include infrastructure, innovation and science and a more seamless border.

We are keen to hear from businesses large and small about any regulatory hurdles you face in doing business across the Tasman. Where do you see opportunities for streamlining or collaboration?  You can submit your suggestions to nzinbox@dfat.gov.au or attend one of our outreach sessions which we will soon be rolling out across the country.

To view Peter Woolcott’s biography, please visit: http://newzealand.embassy.gov.au/

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