Inclusivity and sustainability paramount in a post-Covid recovery

How to integrate sustainable and inclusive trade policy into a world where 'uncertainty is the new normal' was the focus of discussion at the Auckland Trade and Economic Policy School in December. Leadership network member Annabelle O'Donnell reflects on some of the insights she gained through attending the conference. The Foundation supported Annabelle to attend through the Track II NextGen programme.
Annabelle O'Donnell

Annabelle: "It was great to listen to a panel dedicated to discussing the importance of the green economy and integrating sustainable principles into policy, business operations, and investment"

In a year of Zoom calls and becoming well acquainted with our colleagues bookshelves, pets, and children, it was evident that no attendee of the Auckland Trade and Economic Policy School conference (#ATEPS2020) took meeting in-person for granted at the University of Auckland’s Fale Pasifika.

The theme of the conference, ‘Advancing Inclusivity and Sustainability through Trade in the 21st Century’ facilitated rich, honest, insightful discussions through a mixture of in-person panel events and pre-recorded Zoom interviews.

The disruption the virus has caused across global markets and local economies has challenged business leaders and policy makers to ask hard and honest questions about the direction of their operations and strategy.

Rodney Jones summarised the underlying theme perfectly: “Global pandemics never leave the world the way it was before.”

Prominent Māori business leader in the Asia-Pacific region, Rachel Taulelei (CEO of Kono and chair of the APEC Business Council), reflected on holding an intergenerational and sustainable vision while “growing New Zealand’s leading indigenous business and brand,” and honouring this while navigating COVID-19.

She asked herself and others: “Are you being a good ancestor?” Taulelei’s question challenged others in the room to reflect on the values that need to be at the heart of New Zealand’s trading architecture and business landscape in a post-pandemic recovery.

Taulelei also highlighted the commercial opportunities that arise from having cultural synergies. These sentiments were echoed in the Asia New Zealand Foundation’s 2018 report ‘Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples from a Te Ao Māori Perspective’, which highlighted “shared cultural values including valuing elders/kaumātua; performing arts; food customs/mahinga kai; hosting guests/manaakitanga; and valuing relationships/whanaungatanga.”

Inclusivity and gender were top of mind for many attending the conference, as it is widely accepted that women have been disproportionately negatively affected by COVID-19.

Stephanie Honey, Jackie Curry, and Georgina Wainwright-Kemdirim, emphasized that any recovery must focus on empowering women in trade and removing barriers - as well as the importance of women-led ventures having access to capital, networks and information in order to scale-up and capture opportunities in the global market place.

We heard how innovation and technology are central to accelerating inclusive and sustainable growth in the global economic recovery, as well as New Zealand’s digital trade ambitions.

Annabelle (right) with the Foundation's director business Felicity Roxburgh

Annabelle (right) with the Foundation's director business Felicity Roxburgh

Having a digitally-led trade and economic recovery was a central thread woven through the panel discussions.

All of us have lived through some form of lockdown, and having the ability to be digitally connected for both social and economic reasons has been a saving grace. This was especially true for New Zealand businesses, who leveraged e-commerce and other digital platforms to connect with consumers across the globe.

Natasha Hamilton-Hart (Director of the New Zealand Asia Institute) emphasized how e-learning and tele-health became possible almost overnight, with people’s behaviours and expectations adapting rapidly alongside the change to digital.

Pamela Ford (Director at Auckland Unlimited) highlighted the opportunities at the local level, as she sets out to build Auckland’s creative technology industry and attract global attention.

The benefit of digital trade was also discussed as an opportunity to enhance and accelerate growth, and help to reduce New Zealand’s historical tyranny of distance.

The recently signed Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) was highlighted as a significant achievement as this “new partnership between New Zealand, Chile and Singapore will help New Zealand exporters and SMEs take advantage of opportunities from digital trade”.

COVID-19 has brought about many new challenges but also proved that out of crisis comes opportunity - with innovation breaking through in multiple sectors.

There are, of course, still other problems to solve besides the pandemic.

It was great to listen to a panel dedicated to discussing the importance of the green economy and integrating sustainable principles into policy, business operations, and investment.

The Climate Change Minister, James Shaw, kicked off these discussions by talking about leveraging opportunities in the green economy and astutely reminding attendees: “You may not care about climate change, but climate change cares about you.”

At such a critical time in New Zealand’s trading history, #ATEPS2020 was an incredibly well curated event with an impressive line-up of global trade experts, Māori business leaders, and government officials.

It was encouraging and energising to come together with familiar faces and meet new leaders and architects of New Zealand’s trade policy. The quality of the speakers and their speeches filled my notebook and left me with much to think about in terms of New Zealand’s trading future.

About the author

Annabelle O'Donnell is an Asia New Zealand Foundation Leadership Network member and has BCom/ BA from the University of Auckland, where she majored in International Business and International Relations. The Foundation supported Annabelle to attend the Auckland Trade and Economic Policy School conference through its NextGen Track II programme.