Thursday, September 3, 2020

Clive Bibby: Self sufficiency should be an integrated part of our recovery

Last week's column suggested free marketeers might have to look at making some adjustments to their advocacy in support of a post Covid restructured economy.

I volunteered one example of how we might do this but did not mean to imply that we should be returning to what some consider to be the "bad old days" during the Muldoon years when government controlled far too much of the supply chain.

Contrary to what some of my critics would have you believe, l am merely suggesting that these extraordinary times require extraordinary solutions and we are fools if we exclude some ideas that might help us extricate ourselves from this mess simply because they don't fit the mantra of those who can afford to survive this crisis in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

And anyway, not all of those "Think Big" projects and policies introduced during those years when we operated a "siege" economy turned out to be all that bad! In fact, some of them could be classed as visionary.

The Clyde high dam, electrification of the main trunk railway and some "by product" industries of the Taranaki based energy plants have proved to be worthwhile investments - even qualifying as such from a green perspective. Who would have thought!

However, returning to my advocacy of thinking outside the square during these critical times, there is much we can do that would at least help reduce our dependency on international markets that have become unreliable and under threat of collapse.

You only have to look across the Tasman to see what happens when a sovereign State much larger and more independent than ourselves gets involved in a dispute with one of the world's super powers who unashamedly use threatening tactics (bullying) that could have serious implications for the Australian economy.

Surely the message for us in all of this is that we can't afford to allow ourselves to be similarly vulnerable to this crude type of negotiation. Australia is at least in a position where the products it sells to China are equally in demand in alternative markets - especially its coal, iron ore and grain exports. Unfortunately, we don't enjoy the same luxury should the bulk of our export products to that country of red meat and timber come into question if they decide to extend that type of "hissy fit" diplomacy to our neck of the woods.

One way of avoiding this vulnerability is to become self sufficient in areas that reduce that dependency. I mentioned the elimination of imports that supply the building industry by using home grown products that are both environmentally acceptable and equally efficient as an alternative product. It just so happens that we have this quality "by-product" in huge quantities which we are struggling to sell at anything like "breakeven" prices. Seems like a no brainer to me but others think differently! Why?

We should also use this time of uncertainty to be honest with ourselves and realise that nobody owes us a living. When it comes to exiting this current epidemic, we need to be aware that we will be largely on our own in a world where all bets are off - it will be every man for himself. Those that survive will be the ones who recognise the limited opportunities available to them and act quickly before that advantage is lost.

It is not a time to be discounting possibilities simply because they don't fit an ideological persuasion.

Equally, we should not underestimate our ability for adapting to a new economic environment. For the last 200 years we have shown that one of our great strengths as a nation is our use of ingenuity - particularly during periods of crisis.

We would certainly benefit from the resurrection of the "number eight wire" attitude that has served us well in the past. "Kiwi made" products and systems were already leading in some of the world's most sophisticated and competitive markets before the virus hit - Rocket Lab at Mahia is a classic example of that iconic, innovative, home grown ability I’m referring to. There are many others scattered throughout the country that have taken advantage of a seemingly disadvantaged position and turned it into one where the world comes to us rather than the other way round. Ask James Cameron where he intends making most of his films in the future.

 But all options need to be on the table - even those that might cause us to hold our noses while we adopt them. You'll never die from being open minded but maintaining entrenched and bigoted views about what we should be doing next may well cause casualties that could have been avoided.

Clive Bibby is a commentator, consultant, farmer and community leader, who lives in Tolaga Bay.


Unknown said...

The more sulf sufficient NZ is the better, no one else is going to look after us so we had better get cracking.

Rob McMillan said...

Aw, come on, Clive. How far north did the electrification of the main trunk rail line reach? And you just try to buy some real Number Eight wire these days! You can't fix much with that thin, high tensile stuff.

Allan said...

Since free trade allowed all & sundry to buy our once privately owned assets,
how long would it have been before we became servants in our own country, even if covid-19 had not occurred? Relying on the Asian, mainly Chinese trading partners, to provide our manufactured needs or wants, while we supply a cheap food source to them, was never going to end well. Now we have a rising standard of living in China, with record numbers of beneficiaries & homeless in New Zealand. When Walter Nash implemented the state house bonanza in the fifties, I am told that every commodity in those houses was NZ made. That provided employment to all, which meant a home was affordable. Now, the only growth industry in this country is bureaucracy, which of course makes any productive industry even more uneconomic.

Anonymous said...

Just a small point but how many of us make the effort to buy where possible Made in New Zealand? I make a conscientious effort now more than ever to buy Made in New Zealand products. I will pay more but within reason. However, there are just limited measures one can take due to availability. I would like to see big box retailers like the Warehouse wean themselves off their China dependency. Do people really need to buy things like shampoo and soap that are made in China? For those worried about CO2, how much more is created if you take New Zealand sheep wool and export it to China to make into a Sheep skin rug then send it back to New Zealand to sell at Briscoes (for less than the one made in New Zealand)?