Scoop | 1 November 2006
Press Release: The New Zealand Pacific Business Council
31st October 2006
NZPBC Welcomes Prospect Of FTA With USA
The NZ Pacific Business Council (NZPBC) welcomes news that the US has now decided to discuss prospects for a Free Trade agreement with NZ.
This would appear to be a change of heart by the USA, but as NZPBC Chairman, Gilbert Ullrich says, “there have been many groups within NZ lobbying Americans of influence to look favourably on NZ, as there are now larger world issues than NZ’s nuclear-free stance. In fact, despite the US being characterised an agricultural protectionist, the USA is by far NZ’s single largest export market for meat and dairy products, and until quite recently it was one of the very few large economies that NZ enjoyed a trade surplus with (the recent one-off purchase of aircraft put NZ temporarily in deficit with the US)”
“Now this brings me to the point why the NZPBC has an interest in an FTA with the USA”, says Ullrich. “First of all, the Pacific Islands of Hawaii are the 50th State of the USA, and six other Islands of the Pacific are either US Territories or Freely Associated States (ie. American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Marianas, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands). These are seven of the 25 Pacific Islands that the NZPBC focuses on, and over the years, strong business associations have been built up with these places”
The NZPBC has already established relationships with the locally based American Chamber of Commerce, and the NZ US Council, and forged strong associations with US diplomats based in Wellington and Auckland, as well as some senior Administration officials in the US. Whilst NZ’s non-nuclear policy causes some impediments to NZ-US relations, this seems to now be less important than the growing threat to the Pacific from North Asia (especially North Korea), and the unwelcome cheque-book diplomacy of China and Taiwan.
We believe that the USA is having to refocus on the Pacific - and particularly the Pacific Islands, as it is viewed as strategically important to a number of major powers. There are many reasons for this, from geo-political, to global communications, and the need to conserve the finite resources of the Pacific, like endangered species, tropical rain forests, minerals, and fish stocks. And the US seems to now recognise that NZ can provide a special insight into the Pacific Islands that will help them to better understand and engage with this important area of the globe.
As part of this engagement, some members of the NZPBC will be attending a two-day conference in Hawaii on “Business Opportunities in the Islands”, hosted by the US Department of Insular Affairs on 13 and 14 November 2006. There are seven Islands involved, and six are from the Pacific, with just one from the Caribbean. The attendance of the NZPBC at this conference is part of an initiative to get NZ businesses more involved in the US territories in the Pacific.
One spin-off from this business contact, that the NZPBC has conveyed to the government, is that it should act as a further stimulus to NZ being able to convince the US that an FTA with a small nation like NZ still has identifiable benefits to the US, above and beyond just trade considerations.