The first big test for the Government will be to get TPP over the line with New Zealand on board. Why does this matter? Because free trade agreements translate into new income and jobs, and if the new Government wants to spend more we need to earn more. Every additional $1 billion in exports equates to 8500 new jobs.
The TPP will give us access to the highly lucrative Japanese market where our agricultural exports currently face very high tariffs. Apart from additional income in our exporters' hands, a free trade agreement keeps our exporters competitive. Currently Australian frozen beef is going into Japan on a 27 per cent tariff, whereas New Zealand frozen beef has a 50 per cent tariff and can't compete.
We like to think of ourselves as a trading and exporting nation, but in reality our collection of free trade deals is miniscule in comparison to some other countries.
For example, Chile has a similar size economy and similar export industries. Chile has negotiated 26 trade agreements of which 25 have entered into force, covering 65 countries. By comparison New Zealand has eight trade agreements in place covering 16 countries.
Our exporters are finding it hard to compete in markets where we don't have free trade agreements.
New Zealand is the same size as Italy but Italy feeds a population of 60 million and also manages to export $53 billion of food and beverage, twice as much as New Zealand. Of course Italy has access to the whole of the European Union as a single market to export to, without the trade barriers that New Zealand faces.
When we compare the value and volume of our exports before and after trade agreements the countries where we have trade agreements have seen our exports soar. This is very dramatic in the case of China, but also has been significant with Taiwan.
Trade with all countries we have free trade agreements with outperform trade with countries we don't have them with. In the case of Japan our exports there have flat-lined since 2003.
We live in a highly competitive global market place and we need to keep our exporters competitive on a level playing field or we will go backwards. If we were to be outside a TPP deal, the invitation may not come around again in the next 10 years.
No country has a lot to gain in two way trade with New Zealand because of our small population. We have more to gain than them, which is why we need to be part of a bigger trade deals.
In the wake of what became a scrappy and somewhat misinformed debate about the pros and cons of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), ExportNZ decided we needed to revisit why free trade agreements are so important to New Zealand and to remind our political parties and the public that it is too important to jobs and wages to not understand the facts.
Economic consultants NZIER did the research for us and their report states the tradeable sector accounts for $85 billion (43 per cent) of real GDP and some 725,000 jobs.
Further trade liberalisation would support further job growth. The OECD found that a 50 per cent cut in trade barriers by G20 economies would boost New Zealand's GDP by 8 per cent - making households $10,000 dollars richer and creating around 60,000 new jobs (42,000 additional skilled jobs and 20,100 more unskilled jobs).
If every country we trade with played with a straight bat and did what New Zealand has done, reducing tariff barriers, having an open economy and being an easy place to do business, we would all have more employment and higher paying jobs.
ExportNZ is trusting the Labour-led Government will continue its proud legacy of getting good trade deals for New Zealand so we can continue to earn our way in the world with-out one hand tied behind our back.
Our exporters are typically smaller than their global competitors and have further to go to get their goods to market. They need all the help they can get.
As a small island nation we have to be adaptive to change. Globalisation is a reality and we cannot turn the clock back. So let's embrace the global economy in a sensible way, and make it work for New Zealand.
What works for New Zealand is being a participant in multi-lateral free trade agreements that are high quality and comprehensive. We should seek them out wherever we can with like-minded countries so we can get closer to adding all those jobs and wages to our economy.
* Catherine Beard is executive director of ExportNZ.