David Green: Capital can unlock opportunity

The Christchurch rebuild and soaring Asian demand for protein present challenges and opportunities that will shape New Zealand's prosperity for decades. To ensure we meet the challenges and avoid being left behind by our competitors, New Zealand must tackle some hard questions over foreign investment, writes David Green.

David Green. Photo /  Michael Bradley
David Green. Photo / Michael Bradley

Critics warn of a loss of "sovereignty" or control to foreign investors in New Zealand, though at times the objections appear selective based on the regions that the investment comes from. But, for the debate to be constructive and balanced, we must also consider the economic opportunities foreign capital can unlock for New Zealand that would otherwise be unavailable.

When it comes to funding New Zealand's future growth and prosperity I believe the focus needs to be more on the opportunity that capital can unlock and which asset classes and projects it should go into, and less about where the money comes from.

It is in this context that we should have an open and informed debate about the role of foreign investment in realising New Zealand's potential.

Some argue there are too few restrictions on incoming investment, but this is not supported by international comparisons carried out by the OECD. We should rightly look carefully at the impact on our national interests of allowing investment from offshore, but equally we need to consider the consequences if we don't.

It would be unthinkable to find ourselves looking back in 50 years, regretting opportunities lost because we backed away from working through a complex issue.

Nowhere are these issues in sharper focus than two areas of key strategic importance for New Zealand's future: investment in vital infrastructure, including reconstruction in Christchurch, and the huge potential for growth in returns from agriculture.

A major report commissioned by ANZ last year calculated this country could capture up to $1.3 trillion more in agricultural exports between now and 2050 as rising incomes, population growth and increasing use of biofuels drive global demand for soft commodities. With abundant land, water and skills, and our proximity to the growth markets of Asia, New Zealand's agricultural sector has considerable natural advantages with which to meet this demand and target premium markets for our products.

But we are not the only country chasing this prize; it will not just fall into our lap. Our report points to significant barriers to be overcome at every step of the supply chain.

Major among these is the ability to source capital. Farmers cannot possibly raise all the capital needed to realise New Zealand's significant agriculture opportunity.

Across the sector the capital gap is immense - a further $210 billion will be needed to enable production growth and another $130 billion to support turnover in farm ownership.

Similarly, in the Christchurch rebuild there is an ongoing need for capital and resource. Though it is largely a residential/commercial property rebuild, there will be large-scale projects in the CBD such as the convention centre, hospital and justice precinct that will need resources.

With two-thirds of buildings in the CBD demolished or earmarked for demolition, this is the largest infrastructure event in our history and a major reconstruction project globally.

Ensuring a successful rebuild is of national importance because Christchurch is a key strategic point in our national transport network - the South Island's busiest port and airport, and the tourism gateway to the South Island.

The region makes up more than half of the South Island economy and 12 per cent of national GDP. ANZ believes the rebuild will add around 0.5 per cent per year to New Zealand's GDP over the next five to 10 years.

This is a unique opportunity to not only rebuild an important city, but also to develop our infrastructure sector. Investment is a key issue in delivering on the opportunities.

Some $20 billion is available through insurance payouts and government funding but attracting further private sector capital is critical in a rebuild that realises its full potential.

Canterbury will rely more than ever on connections - in terms of capital, ideas and capability - to deliver the projects and offshore capital will be an important part of what it takes to unlock the full economic benefits available from the rebuild for Canterbury and New Zealand.

There is already considerable interest in New Zealand from offshore investors. This should come as no surprise. As a small, growing nation New Zealand has successfully utilised outside investment to support its growth ambitions. It is only the regions that capital is coming from that is now changing, and a number of emerging global factors are now playing in this country's favour in sourcing capital for the future.

In the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis, with Europe facing a period of low growth, New Zealand is increasingly seen by global investors as a relatively safe, stable and competitive alternative market to place capital and do business.

At the same time significant pools of funds are accumulating in the world's growth economies - particularly in our region, Asia-Pacific. New Zealand is well placed to secure capital from those growing economies, who understand our strengths and potential well through the drivers of their own growing trade connections with us.

To realise the opportunity of job creation, increased productivity and growth that this capital could release, New Zealand needs to be clear on where we want to encourage and direct foreign capital and provide consistent signals to support an attractive investment climate that is priced advantageously.

We are accustomed to the challenges in securing capital for this country's future and, in offshore capital we have the potential of a key component of the solution.

Now it is time to properly debate the issues surrounding the role of foreign involvement in New Zealand investment activity to establish the approach that works for us. Our future prosperity depends on it.

David Green is Managing Director Institutional, ANZ New Zealand and Chairman of Infinz.

- NZ Herald

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