Speech notes prepared for the China Business SummitPrime Minister
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, I am delighted to be at my third China Business Summit, an event I have closely followed since its founding in 2012.
Thanks you to Fran O’Sullivan for pulling this event together, and to all of you in the audience for looking so attentive at this hour on a Monday morning!
China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner and one of our most important relationships. The China Business Summit is therefore an incredibly significant platform for New Zealand business leaders, policymakers and thought leaders to come together and share insights on evolving dynamics – particularly when it comes to trade.
At a time when the world is facing the global COVID-19 pandemic, these discussions and relationships are more important than ever.
This morning, I want to leave you with three points:
- First, that New Zealand-China relations are in good shape
- Second, that while we have different perspectives on some issues, we continue to manage these well
- Third, and most importantly in the current global environment, , there continue to be many opportunities for New Zealand to work with China on.
China-New Zealand bilateral relationship
Our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, now in its sixth year, continues to be the basis of our relationship, alongside our longstanding history and the benefits that familiarity brings.
The Partnership continues to deliver benefits for both of us, supported by a commitment to our ‘one China policy’, trade ties in excess of $32 billion last year, a New Zealand Chinese community of over 200,000, and historical cultural ties between Māori and Chinese. Exchanges in agriculture, climate change, education, and other areas are also key pillars.
The relationship is one that has evolved and is a mature one, in which we work through issues constructively, professionally, and regularly. Last year’s impressive array of high-level political contact demonstrates this. I visited China in April, and six ministerial visits to China took place in the course of the year. Meanwhile, two Chinese Ministers, one provincial leader and several other senior figures visited New Zealand. Minister Peters also had the opportunity to touch base with his counterpart at the G20 in Japan, while I met Premier Li at the East Asia Summit in Thailand.
But it is not just about the quantity of bilateral cooperation; quality is important. With this in mind, I want to briefly remind you of some of the achievements by our two countries that have occurred since I addressed this summit last year. Then I will look forward to what may come next – as much as we can predict the future in our current environment.
As everyone in this room understands, trade is a bedrock of our relations, and has been resilient. While our goods exports to China have recorded some declines through the pandemic, certain sectors have done well. For example, New Zealand meat exports to China grew 24% in May and 16.8% in April, compared to the same time last year, and dairy exports were up almost 25% 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.
Your work has been supported by Government cooperation with China in a range of trade and economic fields.
i. Business reform
For those of you who own or manage businesses in China, you will be pleased to know that New Zealand has worked alongside China to support it in improving its business environment, using the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ Index criteria as a way of driving progress. As the top-ranked economy in the Index, we believe New Zealand has a lot to offer in this area, and China is keen to cooperate.
Last year, we held a bilateral workshop on ‘Ease of Doing Business’ in Beijing, with the New Zealand Companies and Intellectual Property Offices. Our Registrar of Companies and Registrar-General of Land were also invited to present to China’s top policymakers at China’s State Council-led ‘Ease of Doing Business’ conference in Beijing, in November, further helping to give impetus to China’s reform efforts.
The results of China’s efforts have been remarkable, rising in the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ Index from 78th place in 2017, to 31st place in 2019. That is an incredible achievement.
When I met Premier Li in November, I highlighted bilateral cooperation on ‘Ease of Doing Business’ as a positive area where both of us could continue to work together and share our experiences. Premier Li agreed, and has continued to champion China’s business reforms throughout Covid-19. I know New Zealand officials will be talking to their Chinese counterparts about how both sides might engage on ‘Ease of Doing Business’ virtually, in the coming months.
ii. Free trade
When I met Premier Li at the East Asia Summit in November, I was also delighted we announced the conclusion of negotiations on the upgrade to our Free Trade Agreement, demonstrating our mutual confidence in the relationship, and our shared interests in open markets and the rules-based trading order. While Covid-19 impacted our signing plans, we hope to be able to sign the upgrade virtually to cement this important step in our relationship.
As you know, the upgrade will bring benefit to both sides. For New Zealand, it 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 committing to further developing e-commerce for trade. The upgrade will ensure that the rules underpinning our bilateral trade are responsive and fit-for-purpose.
Amidst threats to the continued function of the WTO-based global trade system, and the rules-based multilateral order more generally, the upgrade is one of many signals China and New Zealand are sending to the world, in support of open markets.
iii. Regional architecture
As significant exporters, upholding international trade institutions and rules is a priority for both China and New Zealand. That is why I was pleased that we recently came together with a number of other WTO Members to establish an interim solution for hearing appeals in trade disputes between governments and customs territories, until the WTO Appellate Body can become functional again.
We also came together at the latest Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiating round, and the WTO Mini-Ministerial in Shanghai in November. Amidst growing protectionism, the importance of these engagements cannot be overstated.
Premier Li’s recent comment that a key objective for China continues to be to open itself up, suggests to me that our countries will continue to have opportunities to work together on bolstering regional trade institutions and rules in the coming months. I look forward to progressing that.
But our relationship is not all about trade – it has a thriving cultural and people-to-people dimension, underpinned by our Chinese-New Zealand community.
In May, I was pleased that funding was announced for a memorial to the SS Ventnor and those lost when it sank off the Hokianga coast in 1902. The 499 Chinese miners whose remains were being carried on the ship deserve recognition for their contribution to our country, as do many other Chinese New Zealanders over the course of our history.
I was also pleased this past year with the work that Chinese and New Zealanders have done to successfully support greater cultural awareness and understanding on both sides.
In November, the China-New Zealand Year of Tourism wrapped up. The year saw the magnificent Terracotta Warriors exhibition come to New Zealand, to a sell-out crowd. And here I’d especially like to acknowledge the efforts of Ambassador Wu Xi in making this such a success.
The Year of Tourism also had a significant Māori element to it, with a Tuku Iho exhibition sent to Shanghai, the Modern Māori Quartet performing in Guangzhou, and New Zealand Māori Tourism supporting Te Wehi Haka to perform in Chengdu and Xian (pron. she ahn).
I am confident that people-to-people links like these will continue to be important for our relationship, even if only virtually for the time being, while Covid-19 remains a factor.
Climate change and environmental protection
Finally, no discussion of China and New Zealand’s successes and shared interests is complete without acknowledging our likemindedness when it comes to climate change and environmental protection. Beyond co-chairing a nature-based solutions pillar at the United Nations last year, we also agreed to an environment chapter in the upgrade to our Free Trade Agreement – the most ambitious environment chapter and the highest level of commitment that China has agreed to in any Free Trade Agreement.
We are looking ahead to our 3rd Ministerial Dialogue on Climate Change and technical discussions. We have laid a good foundation to continue to work together in this area.
So, overall, a lot to be positive about in the relationship.
At the outset of my speech, I touched on differences, which I want to come back to now.
Given countries’ particular histories, political and legal systems, and world views, it is natural for countries to take different perspectives on some issues.
New Zealand is an open democracy, with a focus on the rule of law. We take a principles-based approach to our foreign policy, and we make our decisions independently, informed by our values and our own assessment of New Zealand interests.
The New Zealand government takes a stance where, as representatives of the New Zealand people, we think that the public has a direct and resounding interest in the outcome. As you know, this has come to the fore recently around developments like Hong Kong’s new security law, the situation of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang province, and Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organisation.
This is important to who we are as New Zealanders.
Looking specifically at Hong Kong, which has been in the news in recent weeks, curtailing the city’s open governance and judicial independence without proper involvement of Hong Kong’s institutions, directly impacts on the thousands of New Zealanders living in, or with close ties to, Hong Kong. Many New Zealanders have also 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.
The way forward
Issues between New Zealand and other countries are normal, and should not curtail or define our bilateral relationships to which we remain absolutely committed.
There is a Maori proverb, which says, ‘A problem is solved by continuing to find solutions’. This whakatauki refers to the need for creative thinking, adaptability and perseverance. The architecture of the China-New Zealand relationship, including on-going high-level political contact, officials’ dialogues, people exchanges, and arrangements between government agencies, has set us up well to continue to talk about our issues constructively, professionally, and regularly.
Now, as I signalled at the start of my speech, I would like to look to the future. Much of what I have said so far this morning is to explain and underline things that are already in place. While it is always important to have that context, I know that those of you in the room today are here because you are committed to our ongoing relationship and I want to assure you that I am too.
New Zealand continues to be committed to working closely alongside China in areas where we share interests, and as the world grapples with COVID-19 this will also include considering new and emerging areas.
First off, I expect China and New Zealand will continue to share perspectives on Covid-19. I am aware of officials from both sides having met a number of times, including earlier this month, to discuss our respective experiences on pandemic preparedness and public health strategies.
The articulation by President Xi of a Covid-19 vaccine as a global public good is a strong vision worthy of widespread support.
As members of the WHO, China and New Zealand will also support the WHO-led Covid-19 review, as mandated by the World Health Assembly earlier this year, to review the lessons learned from the international response to the present crisis, and to ensure we are better prepared for the next one. And I would like to acknowledge former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark who has been appointed co-chair.
Second, as New Zealand gears up to host APEC – virtually given the situation the world is in due to COVID - I hope China will continue to support us on free trade, open markets, and stable supply chains. Inclusive and environmentally-friendly growth should also feature in our endeavours, as should sending positive signals to the world about free trade, including by signing our FTA Upgrade and RCEP.
New Zealand businesses, like those here today, will continue to do business in China, and the New Zealand government, supporting MFAT, NZTE and other agency staff on-the-ground in China, stands ready to assist you. I know NZTE in particular will be assisting New Zealand exporters at the upcoming China International Import Expo in November.
Finally, we are keeping in touch with China on our borders and travel settings. I was pleased that Air New Zealand resumed passenger flights to Shanghai last month, albeit at a fraction of pre-pandemic levels. Nevertheless, both of our respective borders are likely to continue to be restricted for some time, as the world searches for a vaccine.
We will continue to explore our options to reopen travel for groups like students, but in the interim, I expect we will see innovative solutions established. For example, the University of Auckland’s two new learning centres in China are a creative and practical solution for its students unable to enter New Zealand, because of our border restrictions.
Let me wrap up by saying again that China is one of our most important relationships. Our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership is in good shape, and continues to work well, delivering benefits for both sides. Underpinning our relationship are successes, shared interests, and shared history, which all continue to bind our countries together.
Our countries have have different perspectives on some issues, and I expect that we will continue to have these into the future. That is normal. Our relationship is a mature one in which we can manage differences constructively and professionally. Maintaining contact between both sides is key, and our relationship architecture has set us up well to do just this.
As I have outlined, Covid-19 has presented ongoing areas of shared interest for us to cooperate on. The pandemic needn’t stop us from working together, achieving successes. In fact it can, and has, present new areas for co-operation.
On success, to the exporters in the audience, a proverb as some inspiration this morning!
Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini
(Success is not the work of one, but the work of many)
I encourage you all to make the most of today’s superb opportunity to build connections, share insights and support the on-going development of China-New Zealand relations. Your continued efforts to support our economic recovery are welcomed by the New Zealand government, and we will do whatever we can to assist your ambitions. Let’s keep talking as we move through the next few months.