A majority of New Zealand businesses cannot see the benefit of free trade agreements, according to new research by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.
In association with Deloitte, Chartered Accountants ANZ surveyed 1500 senior staff in businesses on both sides of the Tasman for a report called The Future of Trade.
Of the nearly 600 New Zealand based respondents 72 per cent thought free trade agreements (FTAs) had no impact, were neutral or they were unsure of their impact.
In Australia that figure was 64 per cent.
In both countries a small number said the impact was negative.
Chartered Accountants ANZ chief executive Lee White said he was surprised by the result given the importance of trade to both economies.
It possibly reflected the fact that a lot of the free trade talk in both economies involved big exporting corporations like Fonterra, he said.
"Perhaps the small to medium businesses are not seeing the potential for greater gains from free-trade," he said.
Those smaller businesses tended to be more focused on the short-term challenges of doing business day-to-day and week-to-week, he said.
The research did highlight how critical it was for the Government to focus on educating businesses about the benefits of trade agreements, he said.
"Negotiating deals is only half the battle. The survey revealed a real disconnect between the potential benefits of FTAs and the perceived or realised benefits for businesses," White said.
"Our research indicates the Government should prioritise communicating the benefits of existing deals over establishing new agreements."
The finding also perhaps highlighted the mis-alignment in both economies between the kind of business that dominated GDP - primarily services - and the businesses that dominated exports - primarily goods.
The Future of Trade survey also found many businesses wanted to see no changes to current settings when asked what policy initiatives the Government should undertake.
But of those that wanted to see change the biggest call was for the Government to invest in technological and process improvements to reduce customs delays.
"Streamlining customs and border processing should be an absolute priority to ensure the free trade agreements secured with New Zealand's trading partners are working as effectively as possible," said report co-author and partner at Deloitte Access Economics, David Rumbens
"Government facilitation, including steps towards digitising customs and border processing, would help improve outcomes for New Zealand exporters."
Other trends identified in the report included nearly one-fifth of survey respondents believing online platforms would be their main means of reaching consumers in the next five years.
Businesses viewed technology and digital trends as one of the main drivers of change over the next five years.
It also found a strong belief that ethical and environmental considerations would become increasingly important to customers.