Cullen Address: Senate Finance Committee Santiago
Michael Cullen Address to Senate Finance Committee Santiago, Chile
Chile is one of New Zealand’s longest standing and closest friends in Latin America. We have had diplomatic relations for 32 years. Over that time our countries have worked closely on many international issues, such as the environment, Antarctica, disarmament, UN issues and trade policy.
We now have wide-ranging contacts between the two countries, including strong and growing links in trade, investment, education and research.
The time is now ripe for building a stronger economic relationship between Chile and New Zealand. I believe there are significant opportunities for collaboration through two-way investment, partnerships in research and education, and joint action in developing markets in third countries.
Both of our countries have set ourselves the task of building a stronger base for prosperity on the development of free markets, a diversified export sector, and an open foreign investment regime.
In Chile’s case, this has made you one of the strongest economies in Latin America, with very strong, sustained growth rates during the 1990s. You have also weathered the effects of the Asian economic crisis and the slump in world business confidence after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
New Zealand has enjoyed economic growth at rates ahead of the OECD average for the last five years. Since our government came to office, growth has averaged around three and a half per cent per annum. In fact, in the March 2004 quarter our economy grew at over twice the rate of the OECD average.
The labour market is very strong. Unemployment has fallen from 7.6 percent in 1998, to 4.0 percent, its lowest level in 17 years, and the second lowest in the OECD.
This growth has been driven by a mix of strong domestic demand and sound export performance, with increasing volumes and sustained prices. Growth has been achieved alongside low inflation, which has averaged around 2% per annum over the last decade. Population growth has been steady, but modest. And the government has managed its finances prudently, with Budget surpluses of between two and four percent of GDP and a steady reduction in gross debt to around 25 percent of GDP and falling. Indeed, on current forecasts, net government debt is expected to drop to zero by 2007/08.
In the last year the weakness of the US dollar and some other major currencies has meant that the New Zealand dollar has appreciated markedly against the currencies of some of our major trading partners and this has led to a drop in the value of our exports since mid-2003.
For this reason, most forecasters have been predicting a significant slowdown in the New Zealand economy in the second half 2004 and much of 2005. We seem headed for growth in this calendar year of between 3 and 3.5 percent, with some forecasters suggesting that 4 percent is not out of the question. Over the four years to March 2008 average per annum growth is forecast to be around 3 percent.
So both our economies have demonstrated resilience in the face of considerable global economic uncertainty. We also share similar ambitions for developing our economies, attempting to shift the balance away from reliance on commodity exports with their dependence upon price cycles, currency fluctuations and weather patterns, towards more value-added products and services.
In New Zealand this is taking two main forms:
First, we have been steadily broadening our economic base by expanding into newer industries. We have significant new export-oriented sectors which barely existed two decades ago. These include high-value tourism, international education, software, film production, and niche manufacturing. For example, the New Zealand company Glidepath provided baggage handling and security systems for the recent upgrade at Santiago airport.
In addition to new industries, we have focused on transforming our traditional primary industries through the application of new technologies such as bio-technology and through imaginative marketing and product development.
Our merino wool growers, for example, have established their product as the fabric of choice for some of Europe’s leading fashion houses, and are producing new types of wool to meet their specific requirements.
One of the most important developments we as a government have made in the last five years is our Growth and Innovation Framework. This arose from the realisation that our prosperity would depend upon generating new knowledge, applying that knowledge in innovative design and technology, and supporting entrepreneurship throughout the economy.
We asked ourselves where new knowledge and innovative ideas would come from, and found that the sectors that create new economic opportunities and reinvigorate old ones (that is, our higher education, research, and entrepreneurial support programmes) were operating largely independent of each other, with the result that they were poorly coordinated.
The Growth and Innovation Framework began with intensive research into identifying the major underlying drivers of economic growth and opportunity for New Zealand. We went looking for areas of economic activity in which there was a growing global market, opportunity for products and services that commanded a premium (principally from intellectual property rights), and in which New Zealand had an existing base of technology and productive capacity which could be leveraged.
What that research confirmed was that three areas should be the focus of co-ordinated attention. They were:
information and communications technology,
the creative and design industries.
We are now in the process of bringing our education, research and industry support programmes into alignment with these three areas of competency:
We have increased public expenditure on higher education and industry training, and have almost doubled the number of industry trainees in the workforce. We have also taken steps to involve our major industries in leadership roles relating to our higher education and skills strategy;
We have increased public investment in research by some 45 percent, with a very strong emphasis on public-private partnerships with industry that direct research effort towards areas with good prospects of commercial application. Alongside this increase public investment, private sector research and development expenditure has risen by over thirty percent since 2000;
We have developed a new model of government support for business, through partnerships aimed at strengthening the global linkages of New Zealand businesses. We have endeavoured to identify where government can add value in a small economy; and that is often in developing business support infrastructures.
We have also been encouraging foreign investment and supporting alliances between New Zealand companies and overseas partners.
New Zealand has one of the most liberal inward investment regimes in the world. We recognise the importance of foreign investment, both because it gives our companies access to a larger pool of investment funds, and also because it is often accompanied by access to new technology and links to global marketing and distribution systems.
Turning to the specific issues in the relationship between New Zealand and Chile, our trade relationship has grown steadily throughout the last decade, but remains relatively small. The trade balance is slightly in favour of Chile at the moment. Exports from New Zealand were $30.7 million in the December 2003 year with exports from Chile at $34.9 million, an increase of 45 percent over that year.
The small volume of trade reflects the similarity of our economies. Chile, for example, has become largely self-sufficient in dairy products, and hence imports of New Zealand dairy products are quite small.
Nevertheless, New Zealand companies dealing with Chile view your country very favourably, due in large part to a shared commitment to an open economy and fair and transparent business law and regulation. The direct air service has also given new impetus to trade, and has meant that Chile is the natural starting point for New Zealand businesses seeking to trade and invest in Latin America.
New Zealand investment in Chile has been significant in the past and remains important. The most prominent example is, of course, Fonterra’s majority shareholding in the diary processing company Soprole. However, there are also significant investments in fishing by Sealord, and in kiwifruit production by Zespri. New examples of services trade are also emerging, for example a New Zealand engineering company maintains the Chilean Navy Orion aircraft. Chile is a frequent destination for New Zealand consultants in the agriculture and forestry sectors.
Recently Chile, New Zealand and Singapore have been working towards a free trade agreement known as the P3 agreement. We see the P3 agreement as a very positive prospect with considerable advantages on all sides:
It is largely a strategic agreement, as the current tariff barriers between the three partners are in fact low. What that means is that the agreement itself is not likely to expose businesses in any of the partner states to new competition from the others.
The strategic value lies in a number of areas:
First, P3 will strengthen co-operation in research, science and education (for example, our two Agriculture Ministers recently signed a Primary Industry Co-operation Arrangement which supplements the other recent bilateral cooperation agreements in the areas of education, science and technology and export promotion);
Second, it will increase the capacity of the three partners to secure better access to third country markets; and
Third, it will enable the partners to exert more influence at important international forums such as APEC and the WTO.
We are three small, open economies, strategically placed in Latin America, Asia and Oceania respectively. Better integration of our economies, through free trade and free flows of investment, will provide our businesses with an important launching pad into the larger economies around us.
Aside from the negotiations around the P3 agreement, there is a full agenda of co-operation between Chile and New Zealand on trade matters. For example, as proponents of liberalisation of global trade we are both working to maintain the momentum in the Doha Round of the WTO. This has recently taken a giant leap forward with the agreement from the EU and the US to eliminate all agricultural export subsidies.
This is a great outcome for Chile and for New Zealand, as fellow members of the Cairns Group of agricultural exporting nations.
Other items on the APEC agenda are of equal importance. Your Finance Minister is sponsoring a discussion on institution building for fiscal stability in the Asia-Pacific region. The experience of both Chile and New Zealand confirms that prudent management of public expenditure and revenue provides an underpinning of stability and security which encourages business investment and consumer confidence.
Achieving fiscal stability is one of the most important ways that governments can provide a supportive environment for economic growth. If countries like Chile and New Zealand, who have worked hard to stabilise fiscal policy settings, can encourage better performance across the Asia Pacific region, then there are very clear gains to be made in attracting more investment to the region.
In summary, I am extremely optimistic about the future economic relationship between our two countries. We have opportunities to increase the bilateral trade in goods and services, and to explore investment opportunities that will enable our export industries to develop new markets in third countries. And we have a broader relationship encompassing education, science, indigenous peoples development and diplomacy, that will build the trust and understanding upon which all enduring partnerships must rest.