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Cullen: Address to NZPBC Pacific Trade Expo 2006

Monday 13 March 2006

Address to NZPBC Pacific Trade Expo 2006

Telstra Clear Pacific Events Centre, 770 Great South Rd, Manukau City

Talofa lava. Malo lei lei. Ni sa bula vinaka. Namaste. Kia orana. Kia ora tatou.

It is a great pleasure for me to open today’s inaugural Pacific Trade Expo. I would like in particular to welcome the Hon Joachim Keil, the Samoan Minister of Trade and Governor Togiola Tulafona from American Samoa.

I would also like to acknowledge the work of the NZ Pacific Business Council and NZ Trade and Enterprise in making this event possible.

In the display area we have here a most impressive and comprehensive range of businesses and organisations from around the Pacific. Around half of the exhibitors are from New Zealand and the balance from Pacific nations. What this demonstrates is the depth of experience and the considerable energy and imagination amongst those who are involved in trade within the Pacific.

Many New Zealanders have a rather fuzzy picture of our trading relationship with the Pacific. This event will, I hope, go a long way towards sharpening that image.

We are very accustomed to the way that Pacific cultures mingle with ours, especially in the Auckland region, and we are aware of the political importance of the Pacific as our closest neighbours and important allies in international forums.

However, the economic links are not so well appreciated. I imagine that some New Zealanders might be able to guess that our imports from the Pacific total around $80 million per annum, but I suspect few would know that total New Zealand exports to the Pacific for the year to June 2005 exceeded $1 billion.

That makes the Pacific collectively our sixth largest market.

Nor would many New Zealanders appreciate that the bulk of the exports to the region are value-added, including a significant percentage of New Zealand’s manufactured exports, and that there is still further potential for growth in two-way trade.

It is important that we find ways of bringing the opportunities for increased trade with the Pacific into sharp focus. The benefits of doing so are very great for businesses on both sides.

The Pacific is a resource-rich region, with forests, minerals and fisheries. These are resources that are increasingly valuable, as some of the world’s largest economies are starting to recognise. The Pacific also has an increasingly skilled and productive workforce.

The region needs investors who are capable of developing those resources, and doing so in a way that respects local cultures and the environment. I believe that New Zealand companies are in many instances the ideal business partners to bring that potential to fruition.

A key objective of this expo, and of the NZ Pacific Business Council, is to get more small to medium-sized enterprises involved in trade with the Pacific. Much of the growth in the New Zealand economy, including the export economy, is coming from smaller companies who are bringing new products to market, often using innovative technology. What has long been acknowledged, however, is that while New Zealand specialises in giving birth to small companies with great ideas, we are not so good at guiding them and financing them through the growth process.

Moving into exporting is of course a key part of that process. It is interesting to observe that the large bulk of our exports come from a small number of large companies. Not many of our small to medium-sized enterprises are exporters.

That is where markets that are close to home are particularly important. Australia and the Pacific are markets that are more easily accessed by New Zealand exporters. They are markets with fewer barriers in terms of regulation and cultural differences. Business law and accounting practices are generally very similar, or at least compatible. These markets make ideal testing grounds for those wanting to become exporters.

Developing Pacific trade is one of the key planks in the Pacific Plan, which governments in the region have developed as a means of enhancing cooperation in a globalising world.

Trade liberalisation is an essential part of the impetus towards globalisation, albeit a part that sometimes stutters in its slow march forward. Liberal trading regimes open markets for developing countries, promote economic development and investment, raise living standards and provide jobs and livelihoods for whole communities.

What that means is that one of the best ways we in the Pacific can build and strengthen as an economic unit is to ensure a strong architecture for regional trade, and continue to work together at multilateral forums such as the WTO. Some the most important items on the agenda of the current WTO round relate to primary production, and as such represent the areas of most significance to all of our economies in this part of the world.

I believe there is already considerable momentum towards clearing away the barriers to a more prosperous, more secure Pacific. The best way to maintain this momentum is to encourage stronger webs of connections through trade and investment. We all need to have a stake in our collective future, and that must extend beyond the level of governments to include the business communities.

This expo is designed to bring down one of the barriers that is easiest dealt with: the barrier of lack of information. Our goal here today is open doors, to facilitate understanding of where value lies and to broaden all of our horizons about the opportunities for getting leverage from our joint resources and strengths, leverage that can take us beyond our region into world markets.

I would like to pay tribute to the vision and energy of Gilbert Ullrich and his team, for pulling together the various strands of today’s expo. I trust that everyone here today will repay them, not only by having a stimulating experience, but by taking any seed of an idea that may come their way today and turning that into a new business venture.

Thank you.

ENDS

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