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Some thoughts on putting future NZ-China trade in context

December 12, 2022

On 7 December the China Chamber of Commerce in NZ (CCCNZ) organised an afternoon workshop titled “Vision 2023”.  As we end a challenging 2022, the workshop looked ahead to the New Zealand-China trade and business relationship next year and beyond and presented the results of CCCNZ’s annual members survey on business sentiment and confidence.

To set the scene for panel discussions on the future trade outlook and opportunities in digital economy cooperation, our Executive Director Alistair Crozier was invited to share some brief thoughts on “putting future bilateral trade in context”.  Alistair made the following points:

  • Developments in and about China happen so fast – there is at least one new China story in our media every day and it’s really hard to know what to make of it all, made worse of course by the fact that very few of us have visited China since 2019. Which way is the wind actually blowing, and what’s the weather forecast for tomorrow let alone the long-term outlook?
  • The China many of us knew before the pandemic has definitely changed in some ways; and the way other countries engage with China has also changed. But not everything has changed.  As we start to re-engage directly with China in 2023 through travel and receiving Chinese visitors, each of us will need to assess the context for our own business and work out what parts of the market and economy are still familiar to us, and where we need to update our expectations and understandings.  To assume that nothing has changed is dangerous, but to assume that everything has changed is also dangerous.
  • It’s important to look beyond the distractions of the short-term news cycle and focus on China’s medium and long term. Many countries including New Zealand have had to grapple with how to balance protecting public health and safeguarding economic activity when dealing with COVID over the last three years, and China is now the last major economy to arrive at the edge of the precipice and make the decision about when and how to loosen COVID controls.  Like other countries it will find a way through.  COVID will leave scars, but we need to start understanding where China is likely to be in two years’ time, or ten.
  • We need to seek balance in the information we receive about China. As one example, in late November we saw dozens of stories and images of protests against lockdowns but how many people know that also on 27 November the Shanghai Marathon was also held after a two-year break, with 18,000 participants?  There is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ perspective on many issues, just different lenses and we shouldn’t restrict ourselves to just one.  But it takes effort to find other views beyond ‘bandwagon’ headlines.
  • Doing business of any kind with China is now as complex as it ever has been, maybe more so. But it’s also a reality that China is not going away; and will remain New Zealand’s largest trade partner for the foreseeable future.  Many New Zealand companies remain committed to engaging with China in 2023 and beyond.  Diversification is a natural goal for our export sector, but for many it will be a ‘China and’ or ‘China plus’ approach.  So we owe it to ourselves and to New Zealand to understand the wider context as much as we can.

Thank you to CCCNZ for the invitation to join an interesting and ultimately optimistic afternoon of discussions.

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