NZ business must delve deeper and adapt if we're to thrive in Asia - Christchurch hui

For decades, the negotiation of free trade agreements and regional trade zones has offered New Zealand a pathway to greater global integration and prosperity. It was a situation underpinned by a shared belief in the value of free trade and the virtue of globalisation. This situation is no longer.

Watch this video to get a taste of the topics and conversations that arose at the Seriously Asia Revisited Trade Tourism and Investment hui

As the world enters a new era of protectionism driven by domestic pressures, climate change adaptation, competition and resource pressures, New Zealand businesses are going to need a more sophisticated tool kit to navigate a trading world where the main door is not an FTA. This was one of the observations that came out of at the Foundation’s most recent Seriously Asia Revisited (SAR) hui, which focused on the future of trade, tourism and investment.

The Christchurch hui was the third of four scheduled SAR hui – a series of roundtables designed to canvas views from informed voices and industry experts about how New Zealand can best develop its relationships in and with Asia over coming decades.

The hui brought together business leaders, entrepreneurs, academics, iwi representatives and government officials to delve into the big issues and opportunities that New Zealand faces in Asia in the business space.

The Foundation’s director research and engagement Suzannah Jessep says having such a diverse and knowledgeable group in the room provided opportunity for wide-ranging and insightful conversations.

“We heard about the opportunities: new markets, Māori leadership and making the most of the knowledge and expertise of New Zealand’s Asian communities; as well as some potential bumps in the road ahead: a deterioration of the rules-based order, having too many eggs in our China basket and a general lack of Asia literacy among business leaders.

"The difficulties with market diversification were also acknowledged, particularly in the absence of new market access. For this reason, we heard about the continuing contribution of our FTAs to New Zealand’s national economic welfare and of the Chinese market as a major consumer of New Zealand goods and services.”


Among the topics tackled at the hui was the potential further erosion of the international rules based order and what this might mean for New Zealand

The weakening of the international rules-based order was seen as a particularly problematic issue for New Zealand.

“After a long period of relative stability, things are starting to become a little less certain, with cracks appearing in the rules-based order this country has for so long relied on,” Suzannah says. 

“The status quo is no longer going to cut it when it comes to developing business ties in Asia – we need to rethink our approach and come up with a plan that can weather the vicissitudes of international relations and build deep, long-lasting relationships with our trade partners in Asia.”

A man holding up a copy of the Seriously Asia 2003 research report

Seriously Asia Revisited builds on a similar programme of work conducted in 2003

A strong message that came through from participants, which was also voiced at the two previous hui, was that for New Zealand to make the most of its relationships in Asia we need to take a less transactional approach and look to forge deeper cultural and people-to-people ties.

“Unsurprisingly this message came through strongly at the SAR society and culture hui, but it was refreshing to hear business leaders recognize that a business first/only approach hampers deeper connections and sells New Zealand short,” Suzannah says.

She says it is an area where Māori can, and are, leading the way.

“Taking a more holistic, long-term perspective to relationship building resonates well in Asia…and we all benefit through taking a cohesive, unified approach.”


The fourth, and final, Seriously Asia Revisited hui will be held in Queenstown on 29 September with a focus on innovation and sustainable development.