PM Jacinda Ardern and Chinese premier Li Keqiang during a state visit to China in April, 2019 (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: What the trade breakthrough with China means

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Massive day of trade developments for NZ’s relationship with Asia, Bill Cashmore retains top Auckland jobs, and trial of man accused of killing Grace Millane begins.

The government has secured a breakthrough on trade with China, but not everyone will be entirely happy with it. Interest reports it is an upgrade to the existing free trade agreement rather than a brand new deal. It doesn’t improve dairy access to Chinese markets – in part because the existing deal would have done that anyway by 2024. It will also take tariffs off wood and paper products – and you may recall that earlier in the year the price of logs collapsed, on the back of an oversupply in the Chinese market. There will also be positive changes for exporters in reduced labelling and compliance costs, and fresh food will be processed faster at the border.

None of those are individually earth shattering changes. But as Politik reports, New Zealand also hasn’t given much away in the negotiations either. China had wanted more investment access, and has instead got rejigged visa settings  for “iconic Chinese occupations”, including Chinese tourism experts. Collectively as well the compliance cost reductions will really start to add up and be noticeable for exporters. Environmental conditions have also been included in the deal, with “commitments to promote environment protection and [an assurance] that environmental standards are not used for trade protectionist purposes.”

The upgrade to the China FTA also came on a day in which NZ missed out with another emerging giant. Stuff reports India has pulled out of the RCEP trade agreement, which with their involvement would have covered half of the world’s population. One of their major concerns – that New Zealand dairy products would flood their market – is exactly what made their involvement in RCEP so attractive for this country. New Zealand is one of 15 countries that intends to get on with signing RCEP next year.

Regardless, PM Ardern is hailing the day as ensuring “our upgraded free trade agreement will remain the best that China has with any country”. And as the Politik report goes into, the lack of major changes on both sides is reflective of the current diplomatic situation. On the South China Sea and Hong Kong protests, the NZ government has shown a strong aversion to anything remotely like taking a stand. That is contrasted with the block on Huawei’s participation in the 5G rollout, and a statement expressing concerns at China’s concentration camps in Xinjiang. There is also a cautious but not unwelcoming approach being taken to the Belt and Road programme, China’s massive infrastructure development project that is widely seen as a way for China to lock down supply lines and project global influence. Put it this way – New Zealand’s approach to China right now is more a handshake than a hug, and so the concessions are more limited.

Meanwhile, an update on one of the more unusual protests seen in Auckland recently: Over the weekend opposing groups faced off on Queen St over Hong Kong, democracy, and China. Stuff reports that two people who dressed in Chinese military regalia and goose stepped down the road were actually international students, rather than being soldiers. It is believed to have been “an earnest display of patriotism”, and shows how tense the situation is becoming between different groups, even as far afield as New Zealand. It is also perhaps a small, symbolic example that shows the inevitability of New Zealand being drawn into the politics of another country when the relationship gets closer.


The Spinoff’s book is coming out today. We’ve compiled a book of the best pieces in The Spinoff’s back catalogue, and some brand new essays and features. It’s at all good bookstores, but if you’re part of The Spinoff Members and have contributed $80 or more, a copy will be on the way out to you right now. Either way, I recommend you go out and buy dozens of the books to send out as Christmas presents to friends and enemies alike.


Bill Cashmore will continue to be a significant figure around the Auckland Council table, with mayor Phil Goff divvying up jobs. Cashmore has been reappointed as the deputy mayor, and will now also chair a powerful powerful new CCO oversight committee. Analysing the moves, the NZ Herald’s Simon Wilson argues there is plenty of timidity in who Goff has gone with in those roles, and most of the key jobs have gone to loyalists.


The trial of the man accused of killing British backpacker Grace Millane is currently underway. Writing on The Spinoff, Hannah Kronast has outlined what is known about the case, and what will be determined through the trial process. The man continues to have name suppression, and has entered a not guilty plea.


Here’s a really strong piece to share, on the climate change affected New Zealand young people will inherit. Radio NZ’s Leith Huffadine has looked at precisely why the young will suffer much more from the effects than the old, unless action is taken to reduce emissions. Among the specific threats facing this country that could make it unrecognisable in the future: higher temperatures bringing malarial mosquitoes, crumbling coastlines, and the possibility that hardship and shortages will result in the collapse of what we understand as decent and humane society.


Former Air NZ boss Christopher Luxon has been confirmed as National’s man in the Botany electorate.Stuff’s George Block was there, and reports that immediately after securing the nomination, Luxon outlined his socially conservative views on abortion, euthanasia, and cannabis law reform. Among those who he beat to the nomination were list MP Agnes Loheni, and a range of other businesspeople. Luxon will still have to see off incumbent MP Jami-Lee Ross to actually win the seat and enter parliament, but with National’s backing that is now likely to be something of a formality.

Sticking with internal party politics, the race to be Labour’s next president is heating up. Newsroom’s Sam Sachdeva has taken a look at the main candidates, and what a win for either could represent. The last several years have seen remarkable unity from the Labour party, and it will be fascinating to see if that continues with such an important job up for grabs.


A big decision from the Court of Appeal on protecting fisheries: Radio NZ has reported on a new ruling upholding a decision that gives local councils the right to set fishing regulations. In this specific case it is the Bay of Plenty Regional Council imposing restrictions around Mōtītī Island, for biodiversity protection reasons. The fishing industry has previously criticised this, saying they can’t plan operations if fisheries are managed locally. But the Mōtītī Rohe Moana Trust is thrilled, and hopes other Māori groups will pursue similar outcomes.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

A regenerative experiment on a Northland dairy farm (supplied)

Right now on The Spinoff: Alice Webb-Liddall writes about profits being sent overseas to Australian owned banks. Daniel Eb writes about regenerative farming, and how it could be a crucial way forward for an industry under pressure. And I spoke to prison system expert Ben Brooks, who says that of all places, New Zealand should look to Texas for inspiration in bringing prisoner numbers down.


For a feature today, a sad story about international diplomacy once again failing to protect one of the most important natural landscapes in the world. The Guardian reports an eighth straight bid to create a marine park across 1 million sq km on the Antarctic continent has been blocked. It is understood that Russia and China have been two of the key barriers to progress being made. Here’s an excerpt:

Andrea Kavanagh, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts, said the failure of the proposal for the eighth consecutive year was “disheartening”.

“Over this time, we have seen multiple breeding failures for Adélie penguin colonies, habitat loss throughout the region, a concentrated krill fishing effort, and the warmest Southern Ocean temperatures ever recorded. Scientists have been clear that [marine parks] are needed to make a warming and acidifying ocean more resilient.

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“Unfortunately, government leaders failed to heed the UN’s immediate call to action on climate change and made no contribution toward protecting the Southern Ocean’s critical ecosystem and its vital function as a carbon sink, nor the goal of safeguarding 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.”


The VAR system is causing a storm of controversy in the A-League, with the Phoenix the unlucky victims once again. Stuff has a story on how Louis Fenton responded to an incident in the weekend’s 3-2 loss to Melbourne City, and it was both furious and fair. It probably also cost the Phoenix a chance to take a point away from a difficult assignment. I personally detest video umpiring technology, but if you’re going to use it at least make it work properly.

Meanwhile in cricket, perhaps one of the most disheartening stories about the future of international sport is playing out at the moment. India has just played Bangladesh in Delhi, a city so choked with smog and dangerous air pollution that schools were shut down, and residents were warned to avoid going outside. I find it particularly concerning because it is a sign that as environmental conditions deteriorate through climate change, the show of international sport will simply go on. The health of neither the players nor spectators was considered important enough for the match to be cancelled.


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