Speech to China Chamber of Commerce in New Zealand

 

SPEECH TO CHINA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE IN NZ – MONDAY 25TH FEBRUARY

This is a social event to celebrate Chinese New Year of the Pig.

It is therefore fitting that when giving an interview with the NZ Herald recently about the seven deadly sins, I chose to speak about gluttony.

During my recent trip to China with a forestry delegation, gluttony was indeed a sin I was guilty of.

As one of the most social – and humble - Ministers in the New Zealand Government, I’m delighted to be here tonight.

Thank you to the China Chamber of Commerce for this opportunity to speak.

And thank you to every person in this room for the contributions you have made and continue to make to our economy.

The theme of this event is “New Economy – Shared Future” – a highly poignant theme.

Obviously the China 2025 strategy shows the importance of long-term policy thinking with China putting significant emphasis on IT, robotics, new materials and green energy.

While European powers transformed their economies during the Industrial Revolution that started in the late 18th century, China has had to wait for its moment of modern economic empowerment.

And now one thing is for sure – China is certainly determined to be at the forefront of the modern technological revolution.

This revolution has seen hundreds of millions of people lifted out of poverty and has placed China at the forefront of world economic and political development.

The relationship between China and New Zealand is a strong and important one; and one that we place significant value on.

Like all good friends, our nations may differ on some issues, like we do with many other countries, but that doesn’t change the mature and robust nature of our relationship.

I can do no better than refer to the Prime Minister’s recent comments regarding our relationship with China.

The Prime Minister explained that with a trade relationship worth $28 billion – up 15 per cent in the year to September 2018 – there are bound to be technical issues from time to time.

She also noted visitor numbers from China to NZ are strong, as are the numbers regarding our trade relationship. Indeed, goods exports to China have surged 20 per cent and are now worth $13 billion.

It’s worth remembering the five firsts that China attributes to New Zealand too:

In 1997 New Zealand became the first country to agree to China’s entrance to the WTO

New Zealand was the first country to recognise China as a market economy in 2004.

New Zealand was the first developed country to commence FTA negotiations with China. In November 2004, New Zealand and China launched FTA negotiations.

In April 2008, New Zealand became the first country to successfully conclude Free Trade Agreement negotiations with China.

In November 2016, New Zealand and China jointly announced the launch of negotiations to upgrade our bilateral FTA, a first for a developed country with China.

Right now our two nations are working cooperatively on a number of areas, including:

  • Working to strengthen the WTO through high‑level discussions;
  • A shared objective to address climate change – the Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw, visited China last year to progress work on this important issue;
  • We have strong science and research connections, and rich cultural and people‑to‑people exchanges;
  • And officials are also negotiating an upgrade of our Free Trade Agreement, which has seen our trade with China more than triple since it was signed 11 years ago. 

I should also echo the Prime Minister’s categorical refuting of the claim five Ministers are awaiting visas for travel to China.  There are in fact no Ministers are currently awaiting either Letters of Invitation or Visas from China.

Indeed, I understand Economic Development Minister David Parker will be attending a Belt and Road initiative conference in April.

This doesn’t sound to me like a relationship in crisis. It sounds like two countries working constructively to resolve any differences they have, and not letting these differences impact areas like trade and tourism which significantly benefit both nations.

I know many in the people in this room tonight are directly or indirectly linked to the various portfolios I hold.

Forestry in particular is a portfolio which requires significant engagement with China, given its significant investment in New Zealand’s forestry industry.

China is our largest market for both logs and pulp, and our second largest market for sawn timber.

Both I and my political party recognised the importance of this – that’s why we successfully argued for a carve-out for forestry investment when the Coalition Government changed the laws around foreign investment.

This involved “streamlining” the process for investing and ensuring the rules around investment are consistent.

We’ve introduced a special benefits test (or the primrose path, as I call it) – to better facilitate investment in freehold or leasehold land, as well as forestry rights.

This takes the form of a checklist which, if met, means no further assessment is necessary.

My visit to China last year as Forestry Minister was very productive, and I was made to feel very welcome by my hosts.

We are keen to see China’s strong investment in the New Zealand forestry sector continue – especially when it contributes to building a value-over-volume economy, by encouraging on-shore processing which creates well-paying, sustainable jobs in our regions

I should also commend the efforts China Forestry Group in maintaining the strong links between the forestry industry and China.

Their stewardship of the relationship, epitomised by initiatives such as the long-term supply agreement signed between CFG and Waipapa Pine and more recently TaranakiPine are essential for the continued success of the sector.

Tourism is also an incredibly important area for regional development in New Zealand, and another area in which our relationship with China plays a critical part.

In the year ended September 2018, 450,000 visitors to New Zealand from China spent $1.6 billion.

The Provincial Growth Fund – of which I am the steward – has invested in tourism projects across the country, ensuring that not only existing tourist hotspots have the infrastructure they need to handle the volume of visitors they have, but also creating new attractions in some of less well-known, but equally spectacular, areas of the country.

This means that our visitors have the best experience possible here, our regional communities thrive, and the social license regarding tourism is strengthened.

New Zealand is facing an unprecedented infrastructure deficit with our Treasury estimating that net capital spending in the next five years will be more than double that of the previous five years – with the Government investing about $42 billion through to 2022.

I’ve recently announced the establishment of a new independent Infrastructure Commission, which will help lead us in long-term planning and strategy.

There will be business and investment opportunities that arise in the infrastructure space and I hope the new Commission will see New Zealand becoming an even easier place to do business with high-quality partners.

Dairy has perhaps always been the most prominent aspect of the economic relationship between China and New Zealand. It is incredibly important, but the relationship spans across many industries and touches on much of the New Zealand economy.

CONCLUSION:

During my visit to China last year, I saw nothing to back up the inflamed rhetoric of the Opposition regarding the relationship with China.

I can do no better than echo the sentiment of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which noted last Friday that “enjoying strong and steady development is in the interests of both [our] countries”

I know Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and Deputy Prime Minister (and Foreign Minister) Winston Peters are committed to ensuring the relationship between China and New Zealand continues, and indeed strengthens, in the years to come.

It’s hard to overstate the impact the free trade agreement has had. Since it was signed, two-way trade with China has tripled.

As a Cabinet Minister, I look forward to continuing to do my bit, both within my portfolios and across the Government’s entire work programme, to ensuring that the relationship continues to prosper and benefit both parties.

I look forward to continuing to work with many of you on the varied investment opportunities available here in New Zealand.

Please note - speech as delivered may differ from these speech notes.