Jordan Small: Time for New Zealand to take centre stage in US


While live music venues across the world have been emptied due to Covid-19, many of our top international acts have been forced home. They’ve rested, collaborated on new material and toured New Zealand.

So it has been for many of our businesses as they have prepared for the borders to open again. With the Australian bubble under way we now get a taste of the freedoms we enjoyed pre-Covid. And after a long time in the studio, it’s time to start mapping out our next international tour.

New Zealand will step into the global spotlight this week when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks at the first virtual US Climate Change Summit convened by President Biden, with a second gig to follow when she addresses a business audience via the US Chamber of Commerce.

Both events are opportunities for our Prime Minister to take the stage and showcase our world class researchers, innovators and creatives, and the ideas and investment opportunities that can provide that elusive post-Covid transition boost.

The US is critical to this transition for New Zealand and Ardern could prove to be one of the most high-profile and effective warm-up acts our business sector could ever hope for.

New Zealand is in a strong position thanks to our effective Covid response. The Prime Minister has fronted much of this herself, drawing well-deserved accolades and international attention for New Zealand. It’s now time to capitalise.

At these events we expect Ardern will present a compelling case for why New Zealand should be top of mind for US businesses and investors.

When it comes to climate change and the President’s climate summit, Ardern and Biden share a lot of common ground. Both have identified climate change as a global crisis and are expending significant political capital to the response.

Our Prime Minister will participate in a panel on climate finance. We trust that she will also take the opportunity to champion our technology sector, including clean tech and agri-tech, and our sustainable food chains.

Technology and innovation from the private sector will be critical to climate change action, and many New Zealand businesses have already developed the knowledge base and matching skillset.

Our technology and innovation exports to the US are already some of our fastest-growing exports and there is plenty more scope for growth.

The Prime Minister’s virtual discussion with the US Chamber of Commerce session later in the month will provide yet another opportunity to push the NZ-US relationship and the importance of deepening connections.

More so than the climate summit, this will give Ardern the chance to pitch direct to the US business community and put New Zealand in their planning.

Part of that pitch must be that as a small country we can be agile and adapt quickly to change. This makes us an attractive proposition and a useful place to test ideas and innovative regulation.

We see this currently with US investment into Wisk NZ, a partnership between Boeing and Google-backed Kittyhawk. Just last week they displayed their electric air-taxi which has been developed and trialled in Canterbury involving New Zealand researchers and engineers.

More exciting is the contribution that Wisk is making to New Zealand’s emerging aerospace ecosystem.

We also see it with firms such as Aeroqual who are exporting air quality monitors and have signed an R&D collaboration agreement with the US Environmental Protection Agency, while Wellington digital marketers Stun are building out a behavioural app to inspire major corporates to incentivise climate action in the workplace.

New Zealand companies like these and the many others are well-positioned to benefit.

Beyond backing our businesses through these important profile building opportunities, we need a programme of engagement that brings together New Zealand and American leaders across politics, government, and business to foster greater cooperation and give the relationship a new impetus.

While we should always be looking to lower barriers to entry and trade for our small businesses and innovators we can go further than this.

Working together we can bring policy innovation to challenging and emerging areas like digital trade, climate, sustainable food production, data governance and privacy frameworks, and aerospace regulation, to name a few.

Having a globally recognised leader in Ardern, with her unique profile in the United States, visible on these major platforms and championing our industries to influential business leaders will help send a strong signal that we’re open for business. It’s an opportunity we can’t afford to waste.

– Jordan Small is executive director of NZUS Council.

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