Minister praises smart innovative NZ businesses

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 12:00 12/04/2014

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Nelson companies such as the Tasman Bay Food Group and fish oil refiner SeaDragon are examples of a wider New Zealand success story, which has ample room to get even better, Trade Minister Tim Groser says.

The minister was in Nelson yesterday to meet local industry heads, and speak at the Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce luncheon. He told a packed Trailways restaurant that he had added the Nelson companies to his list of others created by "innovative and really smart New Zealanders", who in some cases were held back only by an inability to scale up.

Outside the venue a couple of opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement [TPPA] staged a small protest and handed out leaflets.

Opposition is around the lack of transparency to the Government's part in negotiating the international agreement.

Groser told the Nelson Mail that the biggest flaw in the argument was that opponents thought wealth creation was a political process, when it was about productivity.

"I understand they are worried about life but their biggest mistake is to wildly exaggerate fear over lack of control.

"If I thought I was renegotiating fundamentals of public assistance of the health or education systems through a trade agreement I wouldn't do it.

"Anti-trade idealogs have a legitimate concern, but they've exaggerated them to the point we are negotiating deals that mean New Zealanders might die because we can't afford medications without lining the pockets of foreign pharmaceutical companies."

Groser listed the Tasman Bay Food Group's product Juicies as an example of a potentially hugely successful, simple product created using "very smart technology".

The natural apple and berry frozen goodies had zero sugar added, which meant the benefit for generations of children here and in potential export markets, stood to be huge.

SeaDragon last year announced a $6 million expansion plan that would more than double its staff and establish a new factory in Richmond.

Groser said New Zealand agriculture was "incredibly technical and science based", and it was the application of this technology that would open the country up to further opportunities. "High tech" exports were now as big as New Zealand's meat exports and twice the value of logs.

"We are starting to make progress," Groser said of the shift from traditional exports into high-end commercial services.

"There are many like these two small companies [Tasman Bay Food Group and SeaDragon] which have a fantastic product to sell, but have a formidable problem scaling up."

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Groser said the Government was investing in "powering up" such companies, and had recognised the need for more promotion by opening up new trade commissioner positions overseas. The World Economic Forum recently ranked New Zealand fourth in the world for enabling trade.

He said emerging economies were triggering a wealth creation process on a scale the world had never seen, and New Zealand needed access to new markets. He credited consistent policy from successive New Zealand governments for the country's "giant strides" in securing existing export markets.

He said Australia imported $3.8 billion of New Zealand food and beverage, and was now its second largest supplier. Meanwhile export growth to China had been "phenomenal", with exports from New Zealand increasing 45 per cent last year.

Groser said China was now outbidding other markets for New Zealand goods, and the power of the Kiwi brand was such that an Asian market seeking the Juicies product wanted the label on it in "New Zealand English".

He acknowledged that with expansion, environmental issues needed to be considered and properly managed.

"No-one wants ‘rip, shit and bust' capitalism."

Groser said while there were "massive opportunities" for this country, there was only so much it could actually grow or produce. The smart thing therefore was to invest our knowledge in other countries' agri-businesses. Chile's third biggest brand, which was a food and beverage brand, was almost wholly owned by New Zealand investors.

Demand for New Zealand dairy products increased every year by a "little less than the total volume of milk production", meaning demand was outstripping supply, therefore investment in other countries' industries was the next step.

Groser said his talk yesterday was a "window into a very exciting world", and the Nelson region was part of it.

"There's no reason why we should not be extremely optimistic about this country's future."

- The Nelson Mail

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