On the evening of Thursday, 28 June, the ANZCCJ, together with the New Zealand Embassy, had the pleasure of hosting the Deputy Secretary for Trade and Economic Affairs from NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Vangelis Vitalis. Vitalis, previously served as New Zealand’s Chief Negotiator for the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) (MFAT's CPTPP website) and was the NZ Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva and provided great insights on the current state of the global economy and trade trends.
Vitalis noted that Japan’s economy is the third largest in the world while NZ is fifty-fourth, and yet the two worked well together on global trade issues. He said that there was unease and uncertainty about trade and the impact of globalisation in many Western democracies which reflects a challenge to the two basic assumptions underlying the global economy, which New Zealand’s trade policy has been informed by since the establishment of the WTO in 1995. Number one is that trade rules in place since 1995 would expand and strengthen to reinforce stability, transparency and predictability for trade and second, that markets would expand and stay open (and increase in this way). Vitalis also noted that for 2018, there were expectations that this would be the worst year in terms of additional protectionist measures adopted in a long time, highlighting that while rules matter, they are currently being challenged. In addition, the enforceability of the rules-based system was under threat as a result of the ongoing difficulties regarding the WTO Appellate Body.
Vitalis then turned to the NZ Government’s trade policy framework for these tumultuous times (see statement to parliamentary select committee). By way of context, he explained that CPTPP was a key element in this and that NZ like many other countries, wants it to form part of the regional architecture and be used to shape the future of trade in the region. Japan was a key commercial priority for NZ not least given the preferences some other countries like Australia and Chile had in the Japanese market through their bilateral FTAs. CPTPP offered a great deal of benefit to NZ exporters to the Japanese market. Zespri alone was set to save $26 million in the first year, as an example. In the dairy sector, which has long been a key industry for the New Zealand economy, whilst NZ negotiators weren’t able to secure all that it wanted in this area, they had still secured estimated tariff savings of $86 million per year once the agreement is fully implemented. Reductions in customs clearance times (48 hours) and self-certification for rules of origin were also noted as a key benefit.
Vitalis then turned to address NZ’s trade policy, outlining its six inter-related elements: 1) Intensified effort to defend the rules-based trading system; 2) Embedding New Zealand in the evolving Asia Pacific trade and economic architecture; 3) Supporting and sustain global and regional ‘public goods’ that can reinforce the rules-based system, such as ADB, OECD, AIIB and APEC (and NZ’s commitment includes hosting APEC in 2021); 4) Supporting open plurilateralism as a building bloc for the WTO and multilateralism; 5) A new "Trade for All" agenda which has a domestic focus centred on increasing the benefits of trade for Maori, women, SMEs, the domestic regional economy and sustainability; and 6) An invigorated New Zealand economic diplomacy to support New Zealand firms internationally with practical tools and assistance on issues like non-tariff barriers (such as the NTB portal at www.tradebarriers.govt.nz). The comprehensive speech by Mr. Vitalis was then followed by a dynamic question and answer session with the audience.