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China Business Summit: NZ businesses eye opportunities in Asia

20:48 20/5/2024
Trade minister Todd McClay, Air New Zealand chair Therese Walsh and Fonterra's chief executive Miles Hurrell, and moderator Fran O'Sullivan at the "China Plus" panel at the China Business Summit 2024.

Trade Minister Todd McClay, Air New Zealand chair Therese Walsh, Fonterra chief executive Miles Hurrell and moderator Fran O'Sullivan at the China Business Summit. Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

New Zealand has scope to increase the value of exports to Asia by being innovative and enhancing New Zealand's trade reputation, business leaders say.

Hundreds attended the annual China Business Summit in Auckland on Monday and discussed economic, commercial and political ties between New Zealand and China.

Trade Minister Todd McClay joined Air New Zealand chair Therese Walsh and Fonterra chief executive Miles Hurrell to discuss how New Zealand could achieve the government's goal of doubling New Zealand's export value worldwide within a decade, particularly through trade with China.

"There is huge opportunity for New Zealand in Southeast Asia, as there is in India, as there absolutely is in China," McClay said.

"But unless we're there looking for those opportunities and taking every single one and building respectful long-term sustainable business relationships, we'll miss out."

Walsh and Hurrell believed that having people on the ground in key markets was crucial, allowing companies to engage directly with customers and local governments, as well as partner with locals who could help the business grow.

Hurrell touched on Fonterra's business-to-business innovations, which provide dairy solutions in relation to active living and medical nutrition to partners.

Fonterra values relationships with key customers in China, he said.

"So how do we support them and their growth through bringing our innovation and the quality of what we produce here in New Zealand and take it to those companies that are doing this in China?"

Walsh said New Zealand needed to build on its export brand, which resonated with many in the world, including China.

"We have to think carefully about how we continue to evolve that and think about how that resonates throughout the whole of Asia."

She took cherries as an example, which are regarded as premium fresh produce in China, and could be sold at a much higher price than similar products.

Hurrell also touched on the importance of guarding the reputation of New Zealand brands - a sentiment echoed by McClay.

He said there was a growing middle class in China who prioritised food safety and were interested in knowing where their food came from.

"We have a very strong reputation of high-quality, safe food.

"We just have an exceptional reputation around the world. We must guard it and we must work hard to enhance it."

The government should do less in the trade space but be better in what it does, he said.

"What we're going to do is have a proper, true, respectful partnership with the business sector in New Zealand, but we also have to be realistic about where government investment and effort should go and where it can."

Christopher Luxon makes his first address to the China Business Summit as New Zealand’s prime minister on 20 May, 2024.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon addresses guests at the China Business Summit on Monday. Photo: Supplied / Nancy Lu

In a separate speech, McClay shared some observations from a recent trip to China and said he saw nothing but opportunities there.

"I came away from China with a clear view that New Zealand is maintaining its reputation as a world-leading producer of safe, healthy, nutritious, natural and sustainable food products.

"Beyond that, I also see further opportunity for New Zealand businesses in a range of sectors, such as gaming, sustainability and the creative sector."

China would record 5 percent GDP growth this year and next, which offered New Zealand a significant opportunity, he said.

While noting recent changes in the Chinese market, especially in the regulatory environment and stagnant consumer confidence, McClay said New Zealand businesses needed to adapt to the new economic environment as they were also facing pressure from local and international competitors in China.

"New Zealand firms need to hustle to respond to these consumer trends and remain nimble and agile to stay ahead of competition."

Other markets were also important to New Zealand's target to double the value of its exports - and businesses needed to work hard to open as many doors as possible, he said.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon told guests at the event that New Zealand needed to be more ambitious offshore and become an export powerhouse, while preserving its own values and interests.

He pointed out that regional tensions, including in the South China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait, could affect New Zealand's prosperity, and said the country would continue to raise human rights issues with China.

It was important to maintain diplomatic dialogues with China that helped to identify new opportunities for cooperation and navigate the countries' differences "openly, consistently and professionally", Luxon said.

"Those discussions are not always easy, but they are essential, so where New Zealand and China disagree and have different views, we will always act to preserve, to protect and to promote our national interests.

"Managing differences and divergent views is neither surprising nor new, nor should it be shied away from.

"I strongly believe that our long-standing and mature relationship allows New Zealand and China to speak frankly and constructively where we have different views."

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