Caixin interviews Tim Groser

March 20th, 2012

*Updated below.

So New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser is in Beijing, and Caixin interviewed him. In light of the recent kerfuffle over the attempted purchase of the Crafar farms by Shanghai Pengxin and much of the blatantly xenophobic opposition that arose, I was kinda curious what he had to say. And I’d read through most of it before I remembered Caixin has an English version, and my well have already translated it, which could save me a bit of hassle, because there are a few interesting comments. Well, I can’t find it, and it does seem as if the English and Chinese versions of Caixin have quite different target audiences (duh…) so here goes:

Those who got all hot under the collar over the spectre of a Chinese company buying the 16 Crafar farms better steel themselves, because if Groser has his way, there’ll be plenty more Chinese would-be investors knocking on Kiwi doors:


He called for China to intensify its investment in New Zealand and said some disputes should be resolved through political methods.

Oh dear.

Then there’s a quick review of the rapid growth in NZ-China relations in recent years, noting that China is now NZ’s second largest trading partner and largest source of foreign students, then quotes Groser as saying:


“As New Zealand’s trade minister, if I didn’t visit China at least three times a year, that would be incompetent.”

Well, I was tempted to just write “…I wouldn’t be doing my job.” But whatever, he clearly places a lot of importance on China trade.

Caixin reports that on this, his first visit to China of 2012, he’ll meet Chinese commerce minister Chen Deming to discuss the WTO and how to strengthen the bilateral free trade agreement as well as relevant regional trade issues.

Strengthen the New Zealand-China FTA. This is where it gets interesting, especially with the Shanghai Pengxin/Crafar farms issue still simmering away waiting for the next outburst of xenophobia. If Groser has his way, some people are going to find themselves uncomfortably adjusting to a strange, new reality:


New Zealand is the only developed country in the world to have signed an FTA with China. 90% of exports between both parties enjoy zero tariffs*. Groser said the two countries’ trade relationship is built on a foundation of preferential policies. “The FTA with China will change New Zealand’s economy over the next 10 years.”

*One thing that seemed to dominate Baidu news alerts a couple of weeks ago was the news that New Zealand wine was now to join the list of NZ exports to China facing zero tariffs.

This next bit might scare a few: Groser told Caixin that Chinese investment in New Zealand is still relatively small, and that:


New Zealand hopes it can attract more investment from China in areas such as dairy, forestry, and renewable energy.

Oh, I’m sure the Greens, Labour and NZ First would love to hear that.

Caixin then gives a brief recap of the Shanghai Pengxin/Crafar farms saga, a recap I find quite fair and reasonable, then reports Groser as saying this was the first time in five years such a case had aroused political controversy, and that New Zealand welcomes Chinese investment in New Zealand land, but that investment must meet New Zealand’s standards and the process must follow New Zealand law. He points out that New Zealand’s investment policy is far more open than those of most developed countries, with 99% of applications approved. Over the past 5 years, the purchase by foreigners of 870 thousand hectares of New Zealand land has been approved, and:


“This demonstrates that we have certainly not adopted a closed-door policy.”

He denies that the Shanghai Pengxin case shows New Zealand is refusing foreign investment, and says:


“One of the frames of our investment policy is that foreign investment in New Zealand must bring benefits to New Zealand, and this frame is used in every country.”

He then briefly explains the process of applying for approval by the Overseas Investment Office and that the court will hear any local opposition to a proposed foreign investment, but ends the piece with:


but “this is a rare occurence.”

And I really don’t envy Tim Groser his job, visiting China as New Zealand trade minister trying to drum up Chinese investment in New Zealand while there is still a large, neon-pink, unavoidable elephant by the name of “blatantly xenophobic opposition to a [gasp] Chinese [!!] company trying to buy New Zealand dairy farms” sitting in the room.

But then I started to wonder how the New Zealand media was covering Groser’s visit to China. I remember reading on Saturday he was departing on that trip, but searches of the NZ Herald, Stuff, TVNZ and TV3 News websites for ‘Tim Groser China’, at least at the time the links were added to this post, reveal….nothing since reports of his departure for China on Saturday, with TV3 not even managing that.

Do none of them have any journalists tagging along to cover his visit? Are they not trying to find out what is being discussed between Groser’s mission and their counterparts? Given the magnitude of the Chinese economic development story and the recent controversy over Shanghai Pengxin’s not-quite (-yet?) successful bid for the Crafar farms, I’m surprised not to see this story plastered all over their front pages. And the things he told Caixin in that interview really should be a big story in New Zealand. Amazing.

Update: And today the NZ Herald reports Tim Groser has moved on to Malaysia, but still has no coverage of what he got up to here in China. And so I’m left wondering if the New Zealand public has any idea of the government’s foreign trade and investment policies.

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