Smith Says Government Committed to Exporters

  • Dr Lockwood Smith

The government's commitment to improving conditions for New Zealand's exporters was stressed by Agriculture, Forestry and International Trade Minister Lockwood Smith at the National Party's conference in Christchurch today.

"Exports are vital to the future economic well-being of this country and I and the National Party will do all we can to assist businesses to compete successfully in offshore markets," Dr Smith said.

The minister noted that exporters would benefit from the recent drop in the value of the New Zealand dollar. The key to this was the secure fiscal cap on the Budget enabling the Reserve Bank to ease monetary conditions.

Dr Smith also pointed out that the government was committed to reducing compliance costs for business and removing tariffs. This formed the unilateral part of New Zealand's attempts to improve conditions for exporters.

"Good trade policy begins at home," Dr Smith said.

"But some of my most important work on behalf of exporters over the next few years will involve negotiations in the international arena to break down barriers to free trade." The CER arrangement with Australia was a classic example of the benefits of trade liberalisation. Before CER, New Zealand's exports to Australia were worth just over $950 million a year, some 13.5% of exports. Last year, they were 400% better at $4.25 billion or just under 20% of total exports, Dr Smith said.

"We export more to the state of Victoria alone than we do to our traditional market of the UK or to South Korea.

"New Zealand is Australia's biggest market for manufactured goods. This fact illustrates how CER has benefitted both countries." Another example of the benefits of trade liberalisation was the outcome of the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations for New Zealand.

"It's estimated this country will gain $1.6 billion between last year and 2000 in terms of tariffs saved, plus increased quota and market opportunities," Dr Smith said.

New Zealand was now working in the World Trade Organisation to further push back global barriers to free trade.

"Given our dependance on agricultural exports, the 1999 WTO talks on liberalising agriculture and services are crucial," Dr Smith said.

"We're working hard with groups like the OECD and the Cairns Group to try to ensure we get the best possible outcome for New Zealand from these talks.

"Just before these talks, New Zealand will chair our most important regional trade group, the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum, which includes China and the United States.

"That will be a key opportunity for us to get our agenda being considered by some of the big players on the global trade scene. If we get the outcomes we seek from the APEC and WTO meetings, it will help set us up for a prosperous new century." The minister also noted the possibility of a free trade arrangement with the United States.

"It's important not to get our hopes too high but wouldn't it be great if we could pull it off. It could be worth billions of dollars to us."