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Source: New Zealand Government

Tēnā koutou katoa,

Selamat sejahtara 

Greetings to you all,

Firstly, thank you to the High Commission of Malaysia – in particular Her Excellency, High Commissioner Mee Choo  and SYD Consulting Ltd, for inviting me to provide this keynote address. It is a privilege to be here today to speak to you at your conference on business resilience.

Trade, at its very foundations, is about people connecting across the world. It is about understanding each other and cooperating for the good of all nations and our economies. The resilience of our trade relies on the depth of these global connections, but these connections cannot only have trade at their core. We must have people connecting, across families, politics, education, tourism, work and so many other walks-of-life to truly develop robust relationships between nations. It is then, from these relationships based on broad way to connect, that we can build robust, resilient trade for the prosperity of all.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an unprecedented strain on worldwide trade, testing the strength of New Zealand’s relationships across the world. Maintaining New Zealand’s relationships with the South East Asia region through the pandemic, including trade, is of great importance to us.

The countries of ASEAN offer enormous promise to New Zealand as a source of economic opportunity and resilience, given strong long-term growth trajectories, positive demographics, and our broad-based connections underpinned by many decades of cooperation.

As our kind hosts today, I would like to highlight Malaysia as an example of how a broad, robust relationship, based on deep understandings and networks between our people, can provide the strong foundations for a positive trading relationship when the going gets tough.

Malaysia is our tenth largest trading partner overall. This is a truly remarkable achievement, given that most of our other top ten partners are huge countries. If this relative strength of our trading relationship with Malaysia was replicated across a wider range of countries, New Zealand’s overall export profile would be significantly stronger.

It is a real testament to the relationships between the people of Malaysia and New Zealand that so much of our business has been able to continue throughout the pandemic. This strong partnership between New Zealand and Malaysia is born from a long history of our people working together across a broad range of areas, including education, defence and, of course, trade. So many powerful examples of this cooperation spring to mind.

Our Education Relationship

Some of the deepest connections between our people were formed while they were young, through their education. New Zealand has had the privilege of hosting many Malaysian students through the years, especially through a pioneering policy known as the Colombo Plan, from the 1950s.

Many of the early Colombo Plan students from Malaysia attended high school and tertiary education in New Zealand, some boarding with New Zealand families and having the “real Kiwi” experience. The deep friendships formed during these times have been sustained over the decades and there are many Malaysians who maintain strong and enduring connections with Aotearoa/New Zealand.

This includes Sulaiman bin Daud, the great Malaysia politician, who, after studying with the Colombo Plan, served eighteen years as a cabinet minister in Malaysia.

Our Defence Relationship

We also appreciate our strong defence relationship with Malaysia, underpinned by the Five Power Defence Arrangements Treaty we share with Australia, Singapore and the United Kingdom. This year we mark the 50th anniversary of this unique security cooperation Arrangement.

Through this Arrangement many members of our security forces have travelled between and worked across our countries, in a reflection of our mutual desire to see peace and stability across our region. I particularly want to acknowledge Malaysia’s support during Te Auraki, a project which repatriated New Zealand defence personnel buried in Malaysia.

The Malaysian government kindly facilitated this return, including blessings by our Defence Force kaumātua and chaplain. We thank Malaysia for looking after the resting places of our people for more than 60 years and appreciate the assistance in returning these people to their home whenua/land.

Our Trade Relationship

In addition to this strong defence and education work, led by our governments, New Zealand’s private companies have long enjoyed a fantastic trade relationship with Malaysia. Our businesses continue to do us proud in the contribution they make to the Malaysian economy, from ensuring Malaysia’s food security, to playing a vital role in Malaysia’s supply chains.

New Zealand and Malaysia have well-known and long-standing partnerships in dairy, which drive our trading relationship, led from New Zealand’s end by key businesses like Fonterra. In addition to this, we have a broad range of businesses, from food and beverage producers like Alliance – who provide a wide range of high quality produce, including halal meat, for use in delicious Malaysian cuisine – to our service providers like Inspire Group and DataCom, who continue to expand the New Zealand services offering in Malaysia.

Some of New Zealand’s most exciting new service providers have also enjoyed success in Malaysia. I have been impressed to see the great work of New Zealand’s adventure tourism company SKYLINE. SKYLINE, with the help of a local Malaysian company, are working to build a zipline, chairlift and luge in Malaysia, due to open in the next few years. This is as almost exciting for New Zealand as I’m sure the luge will be for SKYLINE’s customers.

Inspire Group must also be mentioned as another exciting New Zealand service offering in Malaysia, providing leadership support training through their online training software, empowering Malaysia’s businesses and personnel to succeed in an increasingly competitive, and increasingly global, marketplace for talent. The fact that these kiwi businesses have found such success running these unique services in Malaysia is a testament to the region’s incredible environment for innovation and entrepreneurship.

We were also incredibly proud to support the work of Fisher and Paykel late last year as they provided respiratory support devices to Malaysia when they were needed most during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a great reminder to us all that these trade relationships can not only benefit our lives, but also save them.

Benefits of Malaysia-New Zealand Trade to New Zealand

But we enjoy the benefits of our trading relationship with Malaysia coming the other way as well. New Zealand enjoys our fantastic food trade with Malaysia. We were very excited to welcome our first PappaRich franchise in 2016, with their famous Nasi Lemak. Wellingtonians particularly enjoyed this addition to our culinary landscape, already boasting one of the highest proportions of Malaysian restaurants per capita of any city in the world- outside, of course, of Malaysia.

It’s not only Wellington that enjoys the benefit of our connections with Malaysia, the Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad is set to invest in the building of Aotea Central, a commercial and housing space at Auckland’s new Aotea train station. This Malaysian company was selected because of their track record of internationally renowned development; we are so pleased to have them contribute their expertise to what will soon be a key milestone for Auckland.

And, of course, in highlighting all these strong examples of Malaysia and New Zealand’s powerful connections, I must mention the example of the great chef and entrepreneur, Nadia Lim. Having been educated in both New Zealand and Malaysia, Nadia has proved that between our nations she has developed world-class skills in both cooking and business. As a passionate home cook myself, I have the utmost appreciation for how her show “Nadia’s Comfort Kitchen” encouraged so many kiwis to cook their way through lockdown.

I am not mentioning all these examples of our wonderful business and people-to-people connections for no reason. Each of these people, and so many more, have played an important role in the legacy of our relationship with Malaysia. Working in a great variety of different ways, we have them to thank for making our current relationship so deep and robust.

These are the kinds of connections that have supported the resilience of our people and businesses throughout this pandemic.  In light of the strong people-to-people links between Malaysia and New Zealand, it comes as no surprise that our trade relationship continues to enjoy so many success stories, despite COVID-19.

We have seen these same successes reflected across the South East Asia region.

Keeping our markets open

However, there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has left in its wake a multitude of impacts, not all of them positive or in our interest. At one point during the pandemic, nearly 80 World Trade Organisation members had imposed over 100 new restrictions or other barriers. At a more immediate level, the pandemic has also changed the way we work and our consumption patterns, which has, in turn, had its own impact on our businesses and the ability of firms to meet with international customers.

We’ve been working across the globe with all of New Zealand’s partners to mitigate the impacts of this. The underlying understandings we all share within our wider region, about the benefits of open markets, provide a very firm foundation for this work.

Ensuring the success of global supply chains

As you know, COVID-19 has exposed some real vulnerabilities in global supply chains. Governments and businesses have chosen to respond to these challenges in many different ways. Some governments have encouraged the re-shoring or shortening of supply chains and manufacturing to reduce reliance on imported products, while others have encouraged businesses to diversify their supply chains.

Right from the start of the pandemic, the New Zealand Government moved quickly to keep supply chains open for essential imports, maintain connectivity and reduce trade barriers. In this work, New Zealand officials have had the privilege of working closely with Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines to keep cargo and passenger links open. Keeping air links open has been critical for our exports, especially while global shipping routes have faced such severe capacity constraints, including a well-documented shortage of containers.

These links have been particularly important for imports of Personal Protective Equipment and other medical supplies, especially from the countries of Southeast Asia. With international support in keeping these supply chains open, New Zealand has also been able to provide COVID-19 relief supplies to those who need them around the world.

The benefit of our trade agreements

On a wider scale, international trade policy and agreements have also been fundamental to the success of our businesses. As a small island nation at the end of the world, we depend upon open equal opportunities to export our goods and services, and benefit from an open investment environment for our firms.

To draw again from today’s example of Malaysia, it has always been a strong partner for New Zealand in this. Our two countries share four free trade agreements: the first is our bilateral trade agreement, the second is CPTPP, and the third is our regional trade agreement, the ASEAN-Australia and New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, or AANZFTA.

Already known as one of one of ASEAN’s highest quality free trade agreements, we’re now working on upgrading AANZFTA to keep it focused on our shared vision for the future of our regional economy. This ongoing work to maintain AANZFTA’s quality reflects the importance we place on our relationship with ASEAN and the South East Asia region, tackling barriers to our cooperation as they emerge.

Finally, our fourth free trade agreement is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, or “RCEP”, which was signed at the end of last year.

I want to focus on RCEP for a minute. Once it enters into force, it will be the largest trade agreement in the world. The fifteen nations in RCEP put in great effort towards finalising RCEP through the challenges of COVID-19, with officials and businesses across all members coordinating to reach an incredibly important outcome. We hope to see the ratification of RCEP by the various member states soon.

As part of New Zealand’s ratification, I was particularly proud to introduce the RCEP Bill in Parliament about ten days ago. This Partnership will reduce many barriers to trade between New Zealand and other RCEP members, including Malaysia, by making trade simpler and reducing compliance costs.

This means you can spend more time selling your products, and less time filling out paperwork. RCEP deepens our trade and economic connections in the Indo-Pacific region, an important part of our Trade Recovery Strategy. This Partnership will work to the benefit of our whole region, and I am eager to see the additional business connections our people will make without these trade barriers.

RCEP is not only an example of our great ongoing work in Asia throughout COVID-19, but also an example of New Zealand’s plans for a trade-led economic recovery from the pandemic. This will enable even more business cooperation, and I look forward to seeing the new initiatives this leads to, in the future, with our friends across the region.

Support for business

Now, as a Government, we are acutely aware that many businesses and exporters have been hit hard by COVID-19. This is why, alongside initiatives like the wage subsidy, low and no-interest loans, and increased infrastructure investment, the government committed an additional $216 million to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise as part of Budget 2020, to allow them to build up its in-market teams and double the number of their Focus Companies to support their building of even more of these deep connections based on mutual benefit and understanding, which are so fundamental to the resilience of our businesses.

Through last week’s Budget, we’ve built on this further by extending the Training Incentive Allowance and a digital skills training programme for up to 60,000 small  to medium businesses. We’re also investing in vaccines and again in infrastructure, while continuing some multi-billion dollar tax incentives announced during COVID-19 to support businesses – all of which positions exporters strongly to continue contributing to our economic recovery. Our investment in skills and training since COVID has been one of the success stories of our recovery, with over 100,000 people now enrolled in free courses, and I’m sure those of you who have struggled to attract suitable workers in the past will support the further investment in this area.

Alongside this, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) continues to play a key role in supporting business to resolve those barriers I referred to earlier. MFAT have published over 170 market intelligence reports providing businesses with insight on COVID-19 developments in a range of countries, including many ASEAN nations, in response to exporter demand for insights on market developments offshore. This is key to ensuring our business can develop their understanding of other people and nations, to help them thrive.

Trade Recovery Strategy

These two initiatives are additional important elements of the government’s Trade Recovery Strategy. The Strategy was launched to help New Zealand recover from the impacts of COVID-19, and to seize new opportunities for exports and investment. We are always open to hearing from you, if you would like to discuss any trade-related concerns that you might have.


Finally, I want to acknowledge the role of APEC, going forward, as a key forum for international trade and economic cooperation within the region. New Zealand is proud to be hosting APEC this year, following on from the very successful year Malaysia had last year, in very challenging circumstances. I am looking forward to participating alongside my colleague, Minister Damien O’Connor, in the Minsters Responsible for Trade meeting early next month with our APEC friends. In particular, I commend Malaysia’s work on Delivering APEC’s Putrajaya Vision 2040, a significant document which will guide APEC’s work over the next twenty years. New Zealand welcomes your ongoing support in realising that Vision.

We are focussed on using this opportunity to ensure that the economies in our region are focused on a collective response to COVID-19, and we are committed to working together to ensure that critical vaccine supply chains remain open.

I will also be continuing to work with my counterparts, including Malaysia, towards the digitalisation of trade, in support of better connections between businesses in APEC economies, and discussing the contribution trade can make towards addressing a range of environmental concerns, ahead of the World Trade Organisation’s Ministerial Conference in November.


In light of all of this, I cannot help but feel hopeful for the future of trade in our region. The connections our people share are diverse and warm, and they have weathered the challenges of COVID-19. And, as a particular highlight, I am proud to see how the many years of a strong relationship between Malaysia and New Zealand has enabled our shared businesses and overall trade relationship to continues, with supply chains surviving and RCEP succeeding.

This enduring partnership provides security to New Zealand as we plan our future initiatives for a trade-led recovery to COVID-19 and ongoing work as host of APEC. I want to thank our officials, businesses and people, both here today and across our countries, for demonstrating time-and-again how understanding and care at an individual level can result in a thriving economy across the world. Our shared connections, history and innovation will drive New Zealand and our partners forward as we recover from this pandemic.

I look forward to hearing from you all over the course of this morning.

Thank you.