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Next New Zealand PM must prioritise trade with Middle East 

New Zealand businesses in the region hope Jacinda Ardern's successor will focus on Middle East trade relations

Jacinda Ardern Reuters/Caitlin Ochs
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern steps down, leaving expectations for her replacement to demonstrate commitment to Middle East trade relations

When Jacinda Ardern announced earlier this week that she was resigning as prime minister of New Zealand and leader of the Labour Party, I observed feelings of surprise from my fellow local compatriots in Dubai, especially given the fact that 2023 is an election year.

From a UAE perspective, and as chair of the New Zealand Business Council in Dubai, there are some key observations I will take from her five years as leader of my home country.

Who can forget the outpouring of support for the position Ardern took in respect to the Christchurch mosque shootings in 2019? Most New Zealanders in Dubai were proud to see their leader projected larger than life on the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. It was a wonderful show of support from a Muslim country, given the compassion which was shown across New Zealand to the unfortunate victims of the attack.

Soon after, the coronavirus pandemic took hold and the New Zealand government was thrown into a crisis management role, with most of the remainder of Ardern’s term consumed with rapidly evolving policies purporting to be for the protection of New Zealand citizens. 

From abroad it was felt these policies were more focused on New Zealanders resident in the country and less so on those of us living overseas.

Despite the obvious challenges in late 2021 and early 2022 – with border restrictions still in place at home – New Zealand staged a superbly executed pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai, successfully showcasing the country’s fantastic food and beverage products.

One would have thought our high profile presence at the Expo would have been the perfect springboard to increase trade between New Zealand and the Middle East.

Unfortunately, with the New Zealand borders only reopening in Q2 2022, there may not have been enough time for the government to arrange a visit from our prime minister, with a view to bolstering business between the two nations.

This year the New Zealand business population in the UAE will want to see greater emphasis on nurturing trade and business relations between the Middle East and New Zealand. 

The Middle East region has substantial financial reserves and the focus of the two nations – agreed at the eighth session of the UAE-New Zealand Joint Economic Committee in March 2022 – is on agriculture and food security, the development of trade and mutual investments, and entrepreneurship and tourism.

Therefore, the next New Zealand prime minister will need to demonstrate a commitment to the Middle East and will be expected to schedule visits to the region in order to develop relationships with the relevant Gulf authorities.

The financial implications for a country the size of New Zealand in focusing on a region as large and liquid as the Middle East are obvious and more can definitely be done to foster closer trade and business ties. 

As those of us in business in the UAE can attest, the way to increase trade and investment activity here is not just based on the quality of the offering, but also on the relationships that are only built from regular and repeated personal contact between the leaders of the two nations.

At the New Zealand Business Council, our members look to us to assist them in building cross-border connections between the UAE and New Zealand in order to help grow their businesses.

We will all be watching post the 2023 general election in October to see if the next prime minister of New Zealand will be more focused on this region.

Vanessa Abernethy is co-founder of legal consultancy firm Oryx and UAE chair of the New Zealand Business Council