The Single Economic Market: do the governments in Canberra and Wellington really want to advance the agenda?

Although the governments in Canberra and Wellington declare they are both committed to advancing the Single Economic Market (SEM) agenda, building on the success of the Closer Economic Relations (CER) Trade Agreement, the recent meeting of the respective trade ministers in Auckland didn’t produce much more than an array of platitudes, and certainly left business lobbies on both sides of the Tasman yawning.

Both NZ’s David Parker and Australia’s Senator Simon Birmingham seemed content with what they described as the strength of the economic relationship, with two-way trade presently running at $31.4bn annually.

But if there are any significant new initiatives in the wind to mark the 15th anniversary of the SEM, it was hard to hard to find them in the statement issued at the end of the session between the ministers.

Instead the two ministers said they “welcomed the role of the SEM agenda in driving prosperity in both countries and delivering a smoother trans-Tasman experience for business, travellers and citizens”.

And they “recognised the need to make sure the SEM agenda continues to meet the day-to-day needs of trans-Tasman business and remains ambitious and responsive to new opportunities and challenges such as the future of work, transitioning to a circular economy, and the growth of the digital economy, data and emerging technologies”.

And would you believe it: they “discussed progress on initiatives prioritised by the two Prime Ministers at the Australia New Zealand Leaders’ meeting in February 2019. These include the intention to implement e-invoicing in both countries by the end of the year, a Māori/indigenous business mission to Malaysia, and a suite of initiatives that improve the trans-Tasman operating environment for small business”.

So what was the “progress”?   No clues on that.

They also agreed to explore a trans-Tasman arrangement on improving indigenous economic development. Officials were directed to develop a roadmap for cross recognition of digital identities and to progress mutual recognition of business identifiers (ABNs and NZBNs).

Excellent, but when will business be able to read the roadmap?

Then there was this gem: Ministers recognised the unique value of Australia and New Zealand as export markets for the respective Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and the importance of building the capability of SME exporters to enable them to compete globally.  In this context, Ministers agreed to seek and support opportunities for SMEs to make full use of the SEM as an exporter incubator and international launch pad.

The  ministers noted the SEM agenda was making progress on a number of findings outlined in the joint Australia and New Zealand Productivity Commissions’ report on ‘Growing the Digital Economy in Australia and New Zealand: Maximising Opportunities for SMEs’.


And did anyone know “Australia and New Zealand are working together” to establish a trans-Tasman innovation ecosystem and will collaborate more closely on the innovative and responsible development of emerging technologies, including those underpinning Artificial Intelligence?

There was a bit more guff, including the revelation they will, in recognising the enduring success of trans-Tasman economic integration under both CER and SEM, continue building on trans-Tasman foundations in working together to advance economic integration in the wider region, to the benefit of all.  For example, select SEM initiatives could be extended to other partners, including through APEC, which will be hosted by NZ in 2021.

Taxpayers on both sides of the Tasman may be asking themselves: do we really pay for this kind of stuff?


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