Can the Big Apple help New Zealand find its swagger?
Tracy Watkins traveled to New York City courtesy of Air New Zealand.
Gathered in a room above Times Square in New York City, more than 20 Kiwi CEOs and business leaders await the main act of their three-day assault on Manhattan.
Indira Nooyi, the former president and CEO of PepsiCo, is a business rock star, an Indian-American business executive who is consistently ranked among the world’s 100 most powerful women.
Nooyi will have competition. On a soundstage just below the meeting room, another kind of rock star, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, gathers a crowd to promote his latest film, Black Adam.
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But Nooyi doesn’t miss a beat; she is here to speak to the delegation about how businesses must adapt to a new, complex and unfamiliar global landscape. She also did her research; she arrives primed with ideas of what New Zealand needs to do to “regain its swagger”.
After two years of border closures, this is a question that the members of the trade delegation are also asking themselves.
Together, the group is about as powerful as it gets; it represents perhaps up to half of New Zealand’s economy and includes the CEOs of companies such as BECA, Spark, Infratil, the Warehouse Group, Ngai Tahu, NZ Beef and Lamb, Sanford, Mercury Energy and d ‘others.
No one dares joke about what would happen if the return plane crashed.
The group is led by Finance Minister Grant Robertson; what makes the trip unusual is that his opposition offside, national deputy leader and finance spokesman Nicola Willis, is also on board. The two intervene with questions at the end of each of the off-the-record Q&A sessions with speakers lined up by Air New Zealand.
Speakers not only included economic and political observers; the delegation was also in contact with the network of Kiwi expats who have made their mark in New York – people like Kiwi NBA star Sean Marks, who now runs the successful Brooklyn Nets franchise, who spoke about the culture of high-level sport.
There were more connections the day before, at a night out for New Zealanders in New York, hosted by Facebook power couple Kirsten and Craig Nevill-Manning, whose Manhattan apartment is famous for its three-way waterslide floors.
Willis considers it positive that she and Robertson are both on board.
“Air New Zealand approached me and my view is that I want New Zealand to be an outward looking, ambitious, confident and growing country. So it is very important for me to be aware of what is happening abroad and connected to these trends.
“And I love the fact that when New Zealanders are abroad, we are very proud of our country and ready to promote it, regardless of our political camp.”
Robertson echoes the sentiment: “We both sell New Zealand.
It’s no coincidence that the trip coincides with the launch of Air New Zealand’s flagship service flying direct to New York.
Organized by Air NZ, the trip was the subject of some discussion at home for the number of Air New Zealand board members and staff accompanying the delegation.
Some of the criticism has centered on the unfolding journey as the airline continues to experience start-up issues with its new direct route.
But Air New Zealand – and the government – sees its investment in the route as vital to tapping into the upscale segment of the US market in New York, where much of the country’s wealth and high-end consumers are located. America, not just tourists, but value. exports added.
On the trip, the plane was carrying 8,000 kg of cargo to New York, including flowers and seafood.
The direct route also eliminates the nightmarish transit experience for connecting aircraft passengers in Los Angeles. As an American business insider pointed out to the group during one of their sessions, it cannot be underestimated how not having to transit will transform New Yorkers’ attitude to the regard to travel to New Zealand. Many would previously have rejected the trip to New Zealand simply because they had to take two flights, he told them.
But at 4-5 p.m. the trip is probably still on the edge of many people’s comfort zone and while the message Robertson and the rest of the delegation are sending to New York is that New Zealand is open to business, we are not alone.
The rest of the world is jostling just as much, not just for tourists or investment, but for skilled workers and expertise.
For Robertson, the commercial end of the trip is yet to come; When the trade delegation ends on Friday New Zealand time, he will be in Washington for talks with US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell ahead of meetings with the IMF and World Bank.
While Robertson will seek a read from Powell on how recession fears will steer U.S. monetary policy, these meetings will only underscore the somber tone of many of the briefings given to the Kiwi delegation, as the IMF warns against a global recession and US interest rate hikes continue to undermine the strength of the New Zealand dollar and fuel inflation.
No one is yet betting on whether the world faces an orderly downturn or a global crisis.
The recession and the enduring disruptions of the pandemic – have been the recurring theme of discussions during the informal trade delegation briefings.
While on the surface the United States has returned to normal, masks are still worn by a scattering of people on the streets of Manhattan and pop-up Covid testing sites are still visible on the city’s sidewalks.
And after two years of American workers staying at home, the delegation heard that American companies are grappling with many of the same workplace issues as they are – including labor shortages and workers demanding more flexibility in resisting a return to the office.
But the impact of rising geopolitical tensions, particularly between China and the United States, also weighed heavily on the tone of the meetings.
While media accompanying the trade delegation were able to attend the briefings, most of the talks took place under Chatham House rules, meaning they could not be reported.
Andrew Browne, a partner at consultancy Brunswick Group, which had also advised New Zealand trade and business, was one of the few willing to speak.
China absorbs 30% of the goods and services exported by New Zealand, making it our largest trading partner.
This is largely due to a free trade agreement negotiated in the early 2000s. But Browne said the environment has fundamentally changed in China since the FTA was negotiated and the terrain has changed significantly under the companies. operating there.
“Whereas once China was optimized for growth, it is now optimized for security. (Companies) are looking at a regulatory process that used to be pragmatic, that was predictable, and that has now become peremptory. »
However, the recapture of Taiwan by China was a growing risk and companies now had to factor this into their planning.
It is the same message that was conveyed by Robertson during his recent series of meetings with the business community in New Zealand, behind closed doors.
In comments after Browne’s lecture, Robertson – who was involved in the FTA in the early 2000s – said he increasingly felt that dealing with China “was almost like (dealing with) a different country” from the one we were negotiating with at the time. .
And he used the recent dispute between China and Australia as a warning that New Zealand could not be complacent.
China has invoked a series of retaliatory trade actions against Australia in response to what it described as a list of 14 grievances.
“If you look at this list, New Zealand have done (a lot),” Robertson said.
“And so, while we didn’t have the same reaction against us, there’s no reason why they couldn’t just summon the same roster of us at some point.”