The Dominion Post

Don’t let anyone tell you exporting is easy

- Chairman, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise Andrew Ferrier

Ialways find it fascinatin­g how commentato­rs – particular­ly economists and financial journalist­s – describe a country’s financial success. For a while, New Zealand was the world’s ‘‘rockstar economy’’. But in another recent article, Bloomberg called us a ‘‘canary’’, along with Australia. The argument was that our small, tradedepen­dent economies and open capital markets mean we often display the first signs of trouble for the rest of the world (as the canary is used to warn of polluted air in a mine).

How are we really tracking? Latest statistics show our growth has slowed from the highs of 2015-16 to about 2.5 per cent. The Organisati­on for Economic Cooperatio­n and Developmen­t (OECD), in

New Zealand recently to present its biannual survey, said there were two reasons to be worried: soaring house prices and global trade tensions.

At New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, our job is help export companies succeed overseas. But with rising tensions between the US and China, the Brexit debacle, and a sense worldwide that the benefits of rules-based global trade are not valued as much as they were a few years ago, it’s getting tougher for our exporters.

Incredibly, that doesn’t seem to deter them. Kiwi exporters take their inevitable knocks and come back stronger. It’s not enough to say ‘‘I have a great product, you should just buy it’’; consumers around the world are spoilt for choice, so it’s our job to explain why New Zealand products and services really are the best.

We also encourage exporters to be positive and develop a clear story about the value they bring. As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern heard first-hand in Australia recently, Kiwis have great ideas but we’re not good at selling them. Call it lack of confidence, or humility – either way, it’s up to us to be great story-tellers.

NZTE has about half its team of 600 based overseas. Many are locals, hired because of their knowledge of particular sectors. It’s a constant conversati­on – understand­ing the needs of the local consumer, adapting the product, building relationsh­ips with distributo­rs, retailers, e-commerce platforms, hiring staff, checking contracts. Don’t let anyone tell you exporting is easy.

The reality is we can only take our approach – working with individual companies and, on occasion, groups of companies working as coalitions – so far. That’s why we fully support the Government’s decision to adopt a sector approach and develop industry transforma­tion plans.

We need to utilise all the levers in our economy in a co-ordinated way, whether that’s funding for research and developmen­t, or telling a collective story about New Zealand overseas.

We need to know we are doing our best to create a truly competitiv­e local economy. Success in a competitiv­e local market is usually a precursor to

success internatio­nally.

We need to be identifyin­g and supporting the right companies as they move into high growth, to keep emphasisin­g that we want them to sell premium, high-value products, and to help them target the right markets, which includes diversific­ation across the world so we are not dependent on the health of any one economy or region.

We also support the Government’s regional approach. NZTE demonstrat­ed – with a tech hackathon run in Gisborne over the past two years, in associatio­n with Datacom – that regional centres are perfectly suited to attract and develop highly skilled workers in the digital economy. Why sit in Auckland traffic when you can live by the beach?

These same regions are vital in unlocking the massive potential of Ma¯ ori and the Ma¯ ori economy.

I know many focus on the dark clouds on the global economic horizon, but I’m not one. Perhaps that’s because I, and the rest of our board, have the privilege to work with a great organisati­on supporting inspiratio­nal Kiwis.

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