Economy and trade hot topics at English-Cunliffe debate

The Mood of the Boardroom debate featured Finance Minister Bill English and Labour finance spokesman David Cunliffe. Photo / File
The Mood of the Boardroom debate featured Finance Minister Bill English and Labour finance spokesman David Cunliffe. Photo / File

Finance minister Bill English and Labour's David Cunliffe have clashed this morning at the New Zealand Herald's annual 'Mood of the Boardroom' debate.

The rivals sought to convince chief executives gathered at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland that they were the man to hold the nation's purse strings for the next three years.

Mr Cunliffe was up against it, with 90 per cent of chief executives in the survey preferring Mr English as finance minister, but he delivered his policies confidently and appeared to hold his own.

Neither speaker stumbled on policy and were both confident their vision would see New Zealand prosper despite a backdrop of a volatile global economic environment and the rising cost of the Canterbury rebuild.

The politicians were grilled by the audience how to increase exports, why the other party would fail to return the country to surplus, the merits of the Emissions Trading Scheme, and what local government reform was necessary.

Both agreed increasing exports was vital to new Zealand's future, and returning the country to surplus by 2014.

Mr English promoted further free trade agreements, coupled with regulatory reform and a focus on competitiveness to boost exports, while Mr Cunliffe said such agreements on their own were not enough to boost exports, saying government need to work with business, there needs to be greater funding of research and development and monetary policy to remove New Zealand dollar spikes.

Mr English said the Government was sticking with the ETS, "because the alternative is worse".

Mr Cunliffe reiterated assets sales were a short term gain, but the loss of dividends would cost the country revenue. Unfortunately for Labour, a majority of CEOs surveyed back National's plans for partial asset sales, with 25 per cent pushing for the full sale of some state assets.

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