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Business leaders tell PMs to go hard on trade

Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood. Photo / Nick Reed
Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood. Photo / Nick Reed

Business leaders delivered Bill English and Malcolm Turnbull a strong message to lead the fight against protectionism at the joint prime ministerial talks in Queenstown.

Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood told the Herald that inevitably the impact of the Trump presidency on global trade influenced discussion at a meeting the PMs held with senior Australasian business leaders.

Littlewood - who is also NZ co-chair of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum - said there was considerable focus on "TPP minus one" - where the two prime ministers have committed to press ahead with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) without the United States.

Mainfreight chief executive Don Braid stressed that it was important to business that the PMs take the lead against protectionism and carry on with TPP. "He was well-placed given the spread of Mainfreight's global business," said Littlewood.

Braid told the Herald he would like to see New Zealand and Australia combine forces and work together on deals "rather than against each other".

He stressed there was an opportunity to "assist each other" in like for like exports meeting the larger economies expectations on volumes and quality.

"Having the two working closely to convince the balance of the TPP countries to continue discussions is worth while in our view and likely able to work a better trade agreement without the imposts the US brought to the table," said Braid.

Littlewood stressed it was also an opportunity to focus on the development of the single economic market (or SEM) between Australia and New Zealand which is a "shining light for free trade in a time of protectionism".

The Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum is playing an integral role in furthering the economic integration of NZ and Australia and developing the SEM agenda.

Among the items of the SEM agenda:

• How to stimulate foreign investment and corporate venturing;

• New Zealand and Australia combining forces to tackle non-tariff trade barriers which are hindering agribusiness export returns;

• Using technology and information sharing to ensure a more streamlined and secure transtasman travel experience. Both countries are exploring options to get rid of paper-based departure cards:

• Putting "prequalification processes in place" to ensure the new Australasian Infrastructure Pipeline works well.

Fletcher Building chief executive Mark Adamson said he had been to a few of the PM meetings with business.

"Each one builds on the last and whilst personalities have changed the working relationship between the two countries keeps on getting closer," he said.

Adamson said English and Turnbull were genuinely interested in how they can help business. They had a "bias to action and getting things done" and recognised the importance of innovation and the need to facilitate funding for that, he said.

The timing of the September NZ election means the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum will not meet this year.

Australian forum co-chair Ann Sherry said it planned to meet in Sydney in 2018 coinciding with the next expected meeting of the two prime ministers.

Both Littlewood and Sherry said having the two prime ministers present to address the forum made a difference to attracting top calibre representation from the business community, particularly from Australia.

The business leaders canvassed by the Herald said it was a worthwhile meeting and praised the engagement between the two prime ministers and the respective ministers present, particularly Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison and NZ Finance Minister Steven Joyce.

The Australian businessmen present were CSIRO chairman David Thodey and Infrastructure Partners Australian CEO Brendon Lyon.

- NZ Herald

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