Irresistible forces of shifting landscapes and geopolitical change

When I reflect upon 2016, and to coin an overused term at the moment, it has been a year of disruption.

On 14 November, Kaikoura experienced a 7.8 magnitude earthquake,causing widespread damage and disruption in the immediate area and making its presence felt in Wellington and other regions north of the epicentre.

The farming community in the immediate area is now dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake as they work to get their farming operations and services up and running. Road and rail links on State Highway 1 north of Kaikoura to Picton have been severely damaged affecting transport routes causing delays in the transportation of goods and supplies at the top of the South Island.

Whilst the situation looks bleak at the moment, it's incredibly uplifting to see the resilience and strength of the people impacted by the earthquake just get on with the job at hand and restore services.

In addition to 'yet another' seismic event in New Zealand, to which a round of negative consequences on tourism and mobility is inevitable there have also been major geopolitical shift in both the United States and Britain during the year.

Events in both countries have caught many pundits by surprise, especially those committed to the progressive approach to socio-economic reform. What I have found interesting is the shift in supposedly mainstream thinking espoused and nurtured by international and domestic media, leaders and self-styled celebrities, which is effectively maintaining the status quo.

Despite heavy biases supporting one person over another, U.S voters have elected Donald Trump as their President, whilst the British people have ushered in Brexit and will be leaving the European Union.

The argument then goes that these outcomes represent a vote against the establishment, but to put it more simply voters in the United States and Britain have lodged their ballots on the basis of what they believe is in their and their nations' interests.

So what does this mean for New Zealand and the export of our primary products?

It is probably too early to assess the likely impact for New Zealand of these two events, but peeling back the rhetoric there would be a reasonable expectation that the U.S. and Britain will become more inward looking rather than opening up market access opportunities

In describing his first 100 days in office, Donald Trump issued notification of his intention to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in his first day as President. His government would look to negotiate bilateral trade deals that would that bring jobs and industry back to American shores which doesn't bode well for a small exporting nation like New Zealand. Furthermore, Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has been reported as saying that TPP trade deal would be 'meaningless' without the United States that all but ends any hopes for TPP.

In describing Brexit, a NZIER report noted that the only certainty with Brexit is uncertainty, and this uncertainty is unlikely to be in New Zealand's interests. Whilst the longer term effect of Brexit on New Zealand exports of primary products is largely unknown, we are seeing a more immediate impact on New Zealand lamb. A sharp depreciation of Sterling against the Euro has made British lamb more competitive in continental Europe against New Zealand lamb. Similarly, the depreciation of the Euro against the Kiwi makes European agricultural exports more competitive across the globe.

We have been through a period of reasonable stability over recent times, but as this year has shown significant change can occur, and do so very quickly. It would be unfortunate if we were to simply accept that the events such as those described above are our lot and just try to carry on. The question for me is how do we move beyond a business as usual approach and start to shape the discussion in exploring and rolling out high value market opportunities for our primary products where external influences are minimised, if not taken off the table entirely.