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New Zealand Can’t Sleepwalk Way To Growth Target

New Zealand Can’t “Sleepwalk” Way To Growth Targets

28 July 2004 - New Zealand Trade and Enterprise chairman Phil Lough has issued a strong call for a “hard headed” approach to economic development.

He said there was no question that the economic growth targets the nation has set itself could be met.

“But the question we must ask ourselves is – will they?”

He said no one should doubt that New Zealand could not “sleepwalk its way” to its growth targets.

“It is perhaps the legacy of the Welfare State we built that there remains a tendency to believe that someone, somewhere is looking after our best interests.

“The fact is that we are a small, remote country in a globalised world which simply doesn’t give a toss as to whether we sink or swim.

“Today’s borderless world is a tough marketplace. The competition doesn’t take prisoners. To succeed we are going to need to be savvy, determined and always on our toes.

“As a nation we have to look out for ourselves – because nobody else is going to do it. That, among other things, means rejecting the culture of the soft option.

He said a recent visit he had paid to a number of Northern Hemisphere countries had confirmed his view that for New Zealand to prosper in an “unashamedly competitive” global environment it must strive for excellence rather that settle for mediocrity.

“In my view we are already starting to pay the price for taking an approach to primary and secondary education which many would see as seeking to engender self-esteem in students by painting failure in the colours of success,” Mr Lough said.

He said Universities should benchmark themselves against the world’s best. We should encourage excellence in our tertiary institutions – and demand excellence of them.

Mr Lough said New Zealand needed to be realistic and “savvy” in the way it utilised the power of the market.

“We are too small and too remote to take our hand off the tiller and trust the trade winds to take us where we want to go. We can’t afford to sit back and hope the right things happen – we have to be proactive about making them happen.”

He said that many of the world’s most successful economies employ economic development strategies such as those adopted by NZTE.

“Approaches vary from country to country, but few Governments are passive where economic growth is concerned.

“The fact is that in most developed countries there are active programs designed to facilitate the achievement of national economic goals and objectives.

“And when we benchmark ourselves against what others are doing, the comparisons are very favourable,” Mr Lough said.

And he said New Zealand shouldn’t shy away from strategies which in some quarters might be seen as radical or even controversial.

He instanced the use of migrant labour to fill labour shortfalls.

“As we succeed in lifting skill levels in the New Zealand workforce it is inevitable that we will create an employment gap. For some seasonal sectors that problem is already evident.

“We have achieved levels of employment which can be regarded as very satisfactory. The more difficult challenge we now face is improve individual and sectoral productivity.

That, he said, would require greater emphasis of innovation and investment and the more selective targeting of global value chains by New Zealand business.

“And if the successful implementation of these strategies results in shortages in the labour market we should not be coy about the use of migrant labour.

“Obviously I am not advocating policies which would take jobs away from New Zealanders. But any strategy which offers us real economic gains and supports of key established sectors has to be looked at with an open mind,” Mr Lough said.

“As a small nation we have to focus our resources on the big levers in the economy, using the public sector to underpin the private sector’s growth endeavours,” Mr Lough said.

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