Around three quarters of New Zealanders believe the Asian market is important to our economic future but many see it as secondary to Australia despite exports across the Tasman falling.
In a new survey by the Asia New Zealand Foundation, 88 per cent of respondents thought Australia was vital to New Zealand's economy while only 77 per cent viewed Asia as important. However in the year to January exports to Australia plummeted $91 million while exports to China rose $19m.
Four out of five survey respondents believed free trade agreements between New Zealand and Asian countries were important and 84 per cent thought it was important we developed cultural and economic ties with Asian countries.
Around three quarters of kiwis thought Asia was important to New Zealand's future, 6 per cent fewer than last year. Asia New Zealand Foundation executive director John McKinnon said the fact unemployment was at its highest in 13 years at the time of the survey, at 7.3 per cent, could have meant New Zealanders were shifting their focus inward.
"Nevertheless, these results continue to show high levels of positive feelings about New Zealand's relationship with Asia, and high levels of warmth towards people from Asia," McKinnon said.
"The general trend shows that awareness of Asia amongst New Zealanders has increased over time, with some annual fluctuations that are driven by national and international events."
The survey found 92 per cent of kiwis thought exporting to Asia was good for our economy, 74 per cent saw the region as a tourist destination and 64 per cent thought goods made in Asia being imported to New Zealand would have a positive benefit in the next ten to twenty years.
Most of the respondents said exports to Asia and the economic benefits from Asian tourists visiting were important earners for New Zealand. Only half of the kiwis who answered the survey thought immigration of Asian people to New Zealand would bring positive economic benefits.
ExportNZ director Catherine Beard said it was good to see New Zealanders positive about Asia because as the region thrived, so would opportunities for New Zealand business.
"Exports to China alone have increased 70% since 2009 to NZ$5.6 billion. With China set to become the world's second biggest consumer market and India rivalling the bigger European markets by 2020, our engagement in the Asian region needs to keep up.
"It's significant that over half of the respondents to the Asia NZ Foundation's survey believed more needed to be done to help young people engage confidently with Asia, and more needed to be done to help New Zealanders better understand Asian cultures and traditions.
"ExportNZ would like to see more emphasis in secondary schools on teaching Asian languages and culture, to prepare the next generation of New Zealanders to take full advantage of what the region has to offer. Australia is making big investments in this area, and New Zealand needs to keep pace."
Around half of New Zealanders surveyed saw Asia as a neighbour to New Zealand, while 17 per cent considered New Zealand part of Asia.
When asked about their awareness of Asian news, people mentioned the purchase of whiteware brand Fisher & Paykel by Haier, immigrants sending New Zealand baby formula home to Asia and New Zealand labels being put on Chinese milk.
- © Fairfax NZ News