It may have been a meeting between the respective leaders of New Zealand and Germany, but it is perhaps not surprising that China popped up as one of the key topics of discussion in Berlin today.
It is probably fair to say that the two countries are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the threat and opportunity afforded by China’s emergence as an economic juggernaut, as this article in the New Zealand Herald makes clear.
As a traditional powerhouse of global manufacturing, Germany has perhaps lost, and stands to lose, as much as anybody from the rise of China. On the other hand, little New Zealand is shaping to become the first developed country to sign a free-trade agreement with its Asia-Pacific neighbour.
According to New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, German Federal President Horst Koehler believes there are two views within Germany on how it should interact with China. “One was containment and the other was engagement,” Clark said.
New Zealand would only contemplate engagement, she said. The reason for just one view? Because New Zealand gutted its own manufacturing sector in the 1980s as it took on the mantle of lead crusader for globalization and the free market, well before China roared into view. With nothing left to protect, New Zealand has been focusing on leaping up the value chain, cracking open export markets and ensuring its own consumers prefer to “buy NZ made”.
Now it is reaping the benefits when it comes to dealing with China. “We don’t have a large-scale manufacturing sector that’s at risk,” Clark told the newspaper. “We’ve developed a niche manufacturing capacity, which will succeed by staying at the high-value end of that industry. So, we have a somewhat different perspective.”
Amen to that I say, looking forward to my imported dinner tonight of tasty New Zealand lamb, potatoes smeared with New Zealand butter, a nice bottle of Marlborough sauvignon blanc to wash it down, and perhaps a platter of Kiwi cheese and fruit to finish off.
All courtesy of my local supermarket and the neo-liberal agenda that painfully tore my country apart in the 1980s, but also set it well on the path to a relatively painless free-trade agreement with China in the not-too-distant future.