great 20214 640

Resourcing China

By Anna Campbell

Opportunities knocking in

It was only a few years ago some colleagues and I were discussing the shift in export trade from “west to east”, we knew it was coming but even that short time ago, it seemed vaguely theoretical- none of us foresaw just how fast and dramatically the shift would come. Well now it’s official, China is our largest export market. 

Australia has ridden the China wave for longer than us: their economy thrived on the back of massive construction growth and the demand for steel and they have had many of their resources, financial and human, sucked into the mining vortex-often to the detriment of their agricultural communities. Now it’s our turn. The current Chinese Government is driving spending towards consumption rather than infrastructure. Essentially they want to lift the living standards of the wider population. An improved diet will be a big factor and with that comes greater demand for protein, as our agri-food exporters are currently experiencing.

The opportunities for our country in China are beyond what we have seen for generations. I joke, wherever and whenever I can, that for the first time in my career “I am hot”. For much of my agricultural scientific career, I have been made to feel vaguely apologetic, scrambling for grants, looked down on by the academic research fraternity (not sure that one has changed) and overall, considered pretty uncool. Now, we are wanted, hallelujah…but crikey, we sure do need a new wardrobe. 

New Zealand- open for business?

New Zealand is under-resourced at every level to cope with the demands of doing business well in China. A quick scan of the Dunedin high school websites show that very few are offering Mandarin on the curriculum. This says it all and is indicative of our lack of readiness in business, government, science, education and even media. Resourcing our relationship with China at the level required will take time and money, but more than anything else, it will take an attitude change. 

Recently a colleague recommended I subscribe to a newsletter “China Watch" written by New Zealander, David Mahon, who has lived in China since 1984. The newsletters are thought provoking and challenging as David captures the attitude change needed in these words:

Commodities such as timber and seafood are not unique to New Zealand; other countries, such as those in South America, can often supply these just as efficiently. A commodity boom is no substitute for a strategy to develop a broader-based, higher-value-added export culture.

Resourcing a “higher-value” export culture will take capital. The capital needed to develop higher-value products and the appropriate market channels for those products, is greater than even our largest company Fonterra has at its disposal. New Zealand Government and foreign investment and partnerships are vital for our success. Just as importantly, deeply rooted cross-cultural teams in both New Zealand and China are absolutely critical. 

There are individuals in Government and in many of our export companies working flat out to make these things happen. My question is what are the rest of us doing? Are we asking our schools to offer Mandarin? Are we doing what we can to overcome our “fear of strangers” and welcome Chinese visitors and investment into our cities? Are we maintaining networks with Chinese people who have received part of their education here or who have worked here and gone back to China? Every person at every level can help in the required attitude shift. If we get this right it will send a message to New Zealand and China governments- we are open for business, or, as said more eruditely in an ancient Chinese proverb-

If people are of one heart, even the yellow earth can become gold.