So, John Key is heading back from yet another overly long ‘trade mission’ that seemed to involve little in the way of actual meetings and a lot in the way of trying on silly hats. While in Latin America, he somehow managed to snub our biggest export destination in the region at a sensitive time and did nothing else of note. But how well is the ‘wheeler and dealer’ doing, in his own terms – that is, as the guy to lift Kiwi exports?
Not well. Exports to Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Brazil have fallen by 26% under his watch, while imports have risen (we send them mostly agricultural produce, they send us manufactured goods in return – which of us is the developed country again?). The trade surplus to the countries Key went to is down 0ver 99% under his watch. It turns out that the decline in the trade surplus is because 3 of the 4 countries Key visited have taken action to lower their currencies, while we have done nothing – that means their businesses have remained competitive, while ours have not.
Why Key was wasting time on talking up trade with Colombia, no-one can offer a credible reason. At $13 million a year, Colombia takes less than 0.03% of our exports. If Key had got his officials together and they had all sat down and come up with a way to reduce New Zealand’s consumption of imported oil by 0.15%, it would do more for the country’s net trade income than all the exports to Colombia.
In fact, given that Australia is 20 times the export destination of all these countries combined – he could have had a bigger impact, for less money, leading a trade mission there.
And what about trade deals? You’re probably not a fan of them. Neither am I because they’re not really a about free and fair trade, they’re about international capital weakening labour rights and environmental protections. But Key loves ‘em.
So, you might be surprised to learn he hasn’t completed a single trade deal from start to finish despite having over 4 years at the helm.
It seems all the deals he’s started are in various forms of suspended animation. The Russian one was always a joke because they’re such a minor trade partner but has floundered in recent months, the Indian one seems to be going nowhere fast, I wouldn’t hold my breath on the TPP, the Korean FTA doesn’t even appear to have gotten to formal negotiation rounds after 3 years of talking nicely, and the Gulf Cooperation Council deal mysteriously disappeared after Key pulled out of the signing to attend the funerals for the ANZAC Day helicopter crash.