So how is NZ Inc doing in this pandemic? OK, you might say. Take for example NZ’s external trade. NZ has posted its biggest external trade surplus in 28 years as Covid-19 led to a sharp fall in imports.
For the month of October there was a deficit of $501m, just under half the size of the deficit the previous October.
All up, international trade has proved remarkably resilient – a welcome boost for a small importing economy like NZ. And there are signs the economy is strengthening, says ASB economist Nat Keall.
He said that on the same day the NZ sharemarket rose to a new record.
But despite the positive signals, exporters can’t rest on their laurels. Indeed, fruit exporters are already under the pump as they face shortages of workers for coming crop harvests.
The dairy industry, too, has production worries of its own, as the government’s freshwater regulations discourage intensification.
Trade experts have a broader concern: will markets in the UK and Europe shrink first under the Covid hammer, or more permanently from the impact of Brexit, whatever shape it takes?
Whether the UK leaves with a generous, harsh, or (worst of all) no deal, NZ’s quota arrangements will almost certainly be attenuated, even if temporary arrangements are agreed.
The easy alternative, some industry authorities believe, is to sell more into China’s markets. But this would only emphasise NZ’s growing dependence on China.
That – as Australian exporters have found to their cost – exposes traders to becoming pawns in political games at an international level.
A growing list of Australian exports — wine, coal, barley — have been hit in retaliation by Beijing for Australia’s call into Covid-19’s origins.
Australia has learnt the hard way about the cost of of becoming over-dependent on the Chinese markets. NZ cannot risk jeopardising its sales there.
But PM Jacinda Ardern has hinted only that her government would seek to rebalance the “relationship” with Beijing.
Where the previous Foreign Minister Winston Peters sought a firmer line with China, he did not appear to have much support among other coalition partners.
The dairy industry itself has sought to strengthen its position in the Chinese market with new products and partnerships. But some authorities believe it remains very vulnerable. Individual companies like A2 Milk have sought to focus new marketing efforts in huge potential they seek in the US and Latin America — but they are not easy markets.
The government itself should be heavily focused itself on what it can do to make the dairy industry more efficient and productive. It could relax the current regime limiting genetic modification, particularly in developing new grasses and the breeding of highly productive animals.