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They do fancy cocktails and move in high circles. Some speak Cantonese or Mandarin while another learns Hindi. they live, eat and breathe the markets they operate in – New Zealand’s trade commissioners are wired to seek channels for NZ exports.

By Mary Mackinven

Exporters wanting overseas market intelligence and networking opportunities are encouraged to register with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) in New Zealand rather than roll up to the government offices overseas.

An NZTE account manager will connect them to resources as required, such as in-market consumer research, business partners or participation in trade missions – for which they are quoted a lump sum fee based on a highly subsidised hourly rate, says Jack Stephens, NZTE group general manager international.

“We manage relationships closely.”

NZTE has 38 overseas offices of different shapes and sizes, “in locations where business wants us and where we see growth for New Zealand”. They have 220 staff who are mostly nationals speaking the local language, and with market knowledge and contacts that can help New Zealand businesses grow in their markets.

At some of these offices are trade commissioners on four-year terms, mostly Kiwis, who “live and breathe the market”, says Stephens. Much of their work revolves around exploiting local business events such as the World Expo or trade missions.

Exporter asked four trade commissioners to describe their roles.


In Sydney Michelle Templer operates with a team of 16 in six offices, as Australia and the Pacific regional director.

She says a lot of her focus is on the boom economy: looking at specific sector opportunities for New Zealand companies in, for example, resources, mining, infrastructure, processed foods and capital investment.

“A core role is to provide connections with high-level influencers or ‘critical friends’ that we have a long standing relationship with, who we can ask to meet with a company and provide some feedback on their approach to market and market dynamics.

“It’s not the person at the bank, Coles or David Jones you are trying to sell to that we connect you with straightaway, but someone who understands your business and the local decision-making processes, who can provide insights. “Because we are neutral and not selling, we get access to people companies don’t normally get to engage with.”

In November the New Zealand naval ship Te Kaha was due in Sydney and made spaces available to host a reception.

“This gives us an opportunity to invite targeted VIPs who we would like to speak to a group of companies, for example.

“However, I’m worried people will think it’s a great cocktail circuit. You are working to find out information and contacts and following up to leverage them.”

With such heavy commitments it’s fortunate her partner can be the full-time parent at home. “By the way, schools can be the best networking places.” Templer says.


From Beijing, trade commissioner Alan Young says there’s a lot of background material online for newbies, but people still arrive at his office unprepared for the China market.

“Others who have been doing business here for many years still like to come in and chew the fat on politics and the economy as well as talk about their own product or service.”

Young was previously Consul-General and trade commissioner in Guangzhou and worked for many years in China for New Zealand companies. He speaks fluent Mandarin and Cantonese, “which helps”. He works with the two other trade commissioners in China (in Shanghai and Guangzhou) and closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to organise the commercial content of trade missions. “China is so big we have to divvy up [the jobs] and home in on sectors of need — for example, food and beverage, agritech and ICT.”


New to Los Angeles (LA) is trade commissioner Duncan Catanach whose team recently organised meetings with executives and market experts for nine New Zealand medical technology companies centred on their attendance at the pre-eminent US trade show for the sector. The NZ Ambassador hosted a networking event for 120 VIPs. This will help the companies access huge health markets, Catanach says.

The next big event in Catanach’s calendar is the Natural Products Expo West in LA in March. His office is working intensively with about 200 companies, and many others on an ad-hoc basis.


Stationed in Mumbai is Gavin Young who is also trade commissioner for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, and Consul-General for the three states.

The latter role sometimes gives access at a higher level than a trade commissioner could achieve, he says.

Lately he’s been talking to airlines at CEO level about New Zealand aviation services such as pilot training expertise. “Once you get in they introduce you to people in their organisation. It’s better to start from the top; use me to get better access.”

His team has done done months of reseach for the New Zealand Pine Manufacturers Association on trade opportunities and took a group of Indian architects to Dubai to see wood standing up to a harsh climate – paid for with NZTE project funding.

Young also spent a day and a half with delegates on an apple industry mission. “It helps give the mission status with the local community and bridges the gap because I live here.”

The Mumbai office also does research and develops market strategies for clients seriously engaged in India to present to NZTE’s India Beachhead board.

Young says his learning Hindi is appreciated but he’s not expected to be fluent like his staff. He recently gave presentations to the local Australia-New Zealand business group and a rotary club about New Zealand and how to interact with his office.

Events based around cricket, a national obsession, are on the drawing board to build relationships that lead to business. [END]


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