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Mahuta: Address to the Customs Annual Symposium

22 May, 2008
Customs Annual Symposium 2008
Hon Nanaia Mahuta
Address to the Customs Annual Symposium,

Telstra Clear Centre, Te Papa o Tongarewa,

Thursday 22 May 2008

Wellington, 8.50am.


E ngaa mana, e ngaa reo, e ngaa kaarangatangamaha teenaa koutou katoa.

It’s my pleasure to join you this morning and launch the Customs Symposium for 2008. I understand this year that there is representation from other border agencies so the theme of the symposium is particularly pertinent to the challenge before us – that is “Making It Work. Together”. When I took on the responsibility for Customs the initial focus was to seek greater horizontal integration with other border agencies. The ‘joined-up’ approach was a natural precursor to working towards smarter and intelligent border management. While we (alongside the Department of Internal Affairs) claim to be the oldest Government department, that has not inhibited our ongoing aim be effective, responsive and efficient to the increasing demands of our ever changing working environment. Our recent challenge has been to lift our focus and consider the strategic contribution border agencies can make to benefit NZ and our place in the global community.

I want to acknowledge and thank John Dauth, High Commissioner of Australia, guest speakers from different sectors, and border agency colleagues for your contribution over the next two days of this symposium. Teenaa anoo koutou.

You know as well as I do that the aim of working together takes time and energy, a commitment to work things through and to some extent a clear expectation that you stick to your core business while contributing to broader goals that underpin

effective border management. Collaboration is a commitment “to a way of doing things”. In my mind it’s about finding ways to do things better, smarter and more efficiently - together.

New Zealand is a small country where we face many challenges. We do not have an infinite pool of resources to draw from and we often find ourselves innovating solutions in many areas. That’s why we carry the title of “a country who punches well above its weight”. That’s about leadership, striving for excellence, unafraid of change and the ability to innovate. No doubt the symposium will provide ample opportunity to set in context some of those challenges as they relate to border agencies at both the operational, policy and strategic level.

I wanted to frame my contribution along the lines of the priorities I have set out in the Statement of Intent (SOI). The first two objectives were simply to achieve:

* World-class passenger clearance services, and
* World-class trade facilitation.

The work being led by Customs regarding the Border Sector Governance Group (BSGG) attempts to bring into sharp convergence those objectives not losing sight of the operational, policy and strategic imperatives required to deliver against those expectations. Similarly so is the emphasis on practical and sustainable efficiencies that can be gained at the border.

Whether information sharing, data transfer, co-location of staff and offices, integrated services, improved passenger facilitation, seamless legislative mechanisms are the outcome of such work one thing is for sure, each of the border sector agencies will need to move together in the new environment. The international mood for greater assurance against risk factors for trade, cargo and travellers is high. So the protection and security of our border is uppermost.

I’m pleased with the progress being made by the BSGG and its aim to provide a better service for our customers and stakeholders. For the reasons mentioned previously, the work being done to improve passenger facilitation and risk management at airports and a collective approach to intelligence gathering, risk assessment and alerts at the border is particularly welcome.

To some extent a litmus test for addressing my two priorities must surely be gauged by our trans-Tasman relationship which has reached its 25 year milestone. It’s a relationship that has matured and informed our approach to forming enduring relationships in the region. Australia are close neighbours and our largest export destination. Travel to and from Australia is frequent and high volume.

Other priorities for the BSGG are:

* Trade Single Window – working to give exporters and importers a single point of contact to meet all their border administration requirements.

* Working closely with Australia Customs on automated options for trans-Tasman passenger processing.

As I mentioned, the service is working hard to strengthen our trading relationship with Australia. I recently met with the Australian Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus in Canberra where we made a commitment to a series of initiatives to further streamline travel and trade between our two countries.

Among them, our commitment to SmartGate. New Zealand visitors are already able to use the Australian Customs SmartGate solution at a number of airports, and we agreed that the two Customs agencies will install Australian SmartGate kiosks at Auckland International Airport. These will be used to pre-process eligible e-Passport holders travelling to Australian airports with SmartGate Kiosks, before leaving New Zealand.

These commitments highlight again the Customs Service role in building strong relationships with our Australian cousins. An added dimension to this primary relationship is our shared attitude to deepen our commitment in the Pacific which bodes well for further discussion around the role of the OCO to support Pacific Customs Services, our potential for collaborative approaches towards FTA discussions in the region (perhaps significantly with India) and our combined commitment towards addressing climate change and leveraging our trading potential.

The third priority outlined in the SOI is;

· Our specialised role in supporting New Zealand's international interests and relationships.

When I spoke at last year’s symposium, we were on our way to negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with China. That major milestone has been achieved and the ink is settling. The NZ Customs Co-Operative Arrangement with China Customs provides tariff advantages and a more efficient processing of goods into their country. As the first OECD nation to conclude a bilateral agreement with China, we need to ensure that the work we do both here and in China continues to assist and improve opportunities for our exporters and grow further potential for trade and tourism. As the Prime Ministers visit highlighted during the signing, such an agreement does not diminish or inhibit our track record as a Government to continue to advocate with China on human rights and climate change issues. Both of which are matters that the Prime Minister takes leadership on in the international community.

As we signed the Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) with Japan last week, exporters will be able to benefit from the low risk status attributed to goods originating from and destined between, our two countries. As the Prime Minister was present at the signing of the MRA it provided and opportunity to raise and discuss FTA aspirations. To this end a joint FTA study was announced as a means of progressing our ambition with Japan (a significant trading partner in the region). The Government is committed to deepening New Zealand’s relationship in the Asia-Pacific region and the Customs Service has a key role to play. These achievements are a result of hard work and close collaboration with our customs counterparts in the Asia-Pacific region.

Our influence in the Pacific should not be taken for granted and we need to work diligently in our relationship with our nearest neighbours. Since the change of government Australia has lifted its attention and turned towards the Pacific and we look forward to working with them in the region. Sharing information, knowledge and expertise is a useful means of strengthening our links, building capacity, and more importantly, sharing common values that are at the forefront of the Customs service.

We enjoy a positive relationship with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and further progressing our trading relationship is important to New Zealand. Today ASEAN is our third largest export market for merchandise goods, worth $NZ 4.1 billion in the year to March 2008 and we expect this to grow as negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with ASEAN continue. We have made substantial progress already and, with a market of more than 475 million people, there is a willingness among our exporters to tap into their market.

Customs contribution to trade policy is a specialised area of the service and our efforts are well spent to ensure that we sustain our capacity in this area. Our contribution to the World Customs Organisation continues to grow and new Zealand is ranked highly amongst our counterparts. That is due in no small measure to the work undertaken by Martyne Dunne. There has been significant attention given to our strategic role in the WCO and our international relationship and within the service there is a fine balance between your strategic and operational priorities. Each play a different role but serve as an essential part to the nations prosperity and wellbeing. So in many respects the challenge I am confronted with is trying to strike a balance between the two. I want to recognise however that you have all contributed in some part to enhancing our core business and lifting our strategic goals as a service and for that I thank you for your commitment and service.

The government has long understood the important role of border agencies as a point of control which is unlike any other. I was delighted to join the Prime Minister, Martyn Dunne, the family and friends of the inaugural recipients of the Customs medal ceremony which was held in the grand hall at Parliament earlier this month. It was a proud moment for many people not the least the hardworking and loyal staff that Customs seem to retain. It’s a distinct characteristic of this service to have long-serving staff and I am very pleased that their efforts can be given the due recognition that is well deserved.

Finally to all the people who have put a lot of hard work into making this symposium a useful, informative event thank you very much for inviting me to open it.

My challenge to you is that you continue to set high standards in leadership and excellence for which the New Zealand Customs service has become recognised.

Kia Ora


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