New Zealand happy to forget the UK’s ‘betrayal’

It was a story of rupture and betrayal, and of a long-distance relationship that went sour.

It is not a cliffhanger from Shortland Street, New Zealand’s longest-running TV soap opera, but a true story of abandonment.

It happened in January of 1973, the South Pacific nation, when the UK joined the European Economic Community (EEC), the forerunner of today’s European Union.

At the moment, about half of all exports of Kiwifruit were shipped 18,500 km (11,500 miles) for the UNITED kingdom, but access to those valuable markets would be an end as a result of UK accession to the EEC.

“It was a big shock. It was an emotional shock for New Zealand,” says Asha Sundaram, University of Auckland.

“Almost 50% of New Zealand exports registered in the UNITED kingdom, at the time, and so there is great anxiety about what might happen.

“In essence, New Zealand was as an outpost of great Britain [at that time]. This was the parent-child relationship, and I think people were just terrified of the apron strings to be cut off.

“I think it was probably the panic.”

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In 1973, a colour TV was beamed into Kiwis living rooms for the first time (just in time for another royal wedding, that of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips), while Wellington’s opposition to French nuclear testing in the region intensifies.

The UK seeks to be a part of the EEC it had been a long time coming, but when it finally happened, there was a sense in New Zealand sold-out by an old friend.

“I believe that there was a sense of betrayal, particularly among the new zealanders,” says Stephen Jacobi, executive director of the New Zealand International Business Forum.

“I myself am born in Britain, so my family emigrated to Britain, and New Zealand. It is difficult to think of Britain as a foreign country.

“We were conceived as a farm for Britain. This was our justification for the existence of the world order, as it has been.”

Fast-forward 45 years and the Kiwi economy has been transformed.

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Free trade agreements with Australia, China (in 2008), and others have been critical. So were the bold reforms since the 1980s, which has opened a “sick” fortress economy”, which was very well protected.

“New Zealand was the first country to make a high-quality free trade with China”, says Catherine Beard, head of Export NZ, a lobby and advocacy group.

“We really made an approach founded on the principles of commerce, so we reduced all the rates in New Zealand, many years ago, we do not have grants.

“And we do not have any type of smoke and mirror support for companies at the national level, and those that have survived have prospered.

“Our industry is actually very robust, and so are our farmers, because they have always had to be competitive on a global level without support.”

Agriculture is important to New Zealand, as well as forestry and fisheries, together with the services sector, tourism and education.

As Brexit approaches, there are important lessons for the UNITED kingdom in its former colony’s economic revival? New Zealand travel since the early 1970s has been turbulent at times, and tough decisions were made along the way.

An agile, creative and diverse economy is essential, as is the attempt to find new markets.

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In an ultra-competitive, Kiwi exporters should always be at the top of their game, according to Peter Busfield, who represents the marine industry.

“We are a long, long way from all the markets, we are really at the end of a road exit, to the world,” he says.

“We must go and introduce ourselves to the various markets, and are of a value proposition that meets the customers the more they buy from their next door neighbors.

“So New Zealand has always run perfectly to break into any market.”The Global Trade

More from the BBC series taking an international perspective on the trade:
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Where is Trump’s ‘America First’ to leave Canada?
Which country dominates the global arms trade?
The automakers fear the growing obstacles to trade after Brexit
Can rates really save an industry
US farmers fear Chinese tariffs will hit their exports

Today, Australia buys more Kiwi, exports of everyone else, while China represents approximately 20% of New Zealand’s overseas trade. The UNITED kingdom represents only 3%, which is worth 1.6 billion New Zealand dollars ($1.1 bn; £830m).

New Zealand exports to the UNITED kingdom includes mostly meat, drinks and fruit, and there is no appetite for New Zealand, the UNITED kingdom, free trade agreement.

“While the Uk is not an important trading partner for New Zealand, it is still very important investment partner”, says Mr. Jacobi.

“Britain is the third largest investor in New Zealand, after the United States and Australia, in such a way that the relationship is still very significant. What we have now, perhaps, it is an opportunity to bring up to date, and the place most in the 21st Century.”

Four-and-a-half decades after a nasty divorce, the UNITED kingdom is the achievement of a New Zealand again. The irony of this volte-face is not lost on many of the Kiwi, but you’ll find few here who still bear a grudge.

A NZ-UK trade deal will be a priority for the post-Brexit UK, according to Theresa May on the government. As you search for a new partner, a friend far away is pushed in the past, it may perhaps help you embrace the challenges of the future.