It is timely to focus on our trade relationship with Australia now, as 2023 marks significant anniversaries for three major linkages between our nations: the 80th anniversary of diplomatic ties (when we each posted High Commissioners), 50 years of visa-free travel, and the 40th Anniversary of the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (CER).
First coming into force on 1 January 1983, CER underpins our modern trading relationship with Australia and had the major result of seeing the total elimination of tariffs or quantitative restrictions by mid-1990, which was five years ahead of the original schedule. It is viewed today as one the world’s most comprehensive and effective free trade agreements and was the first to include trade in services.
The Single Economic Market (SEM) agenda builds on the CER agreement, aiming to create a seamless business experience between Australia and New Zealand. SEM seeks to increase the ease of trans-Tasman trade by streamlining processes such as customs and border processing, as well as reducing costs created by issues such as conflicting regulations or inefficient regulatory processes.
Of course, trans-Tasman trade stretches back well before 1983. There is evidence of Māori trade with Australia from the late 1700s, though it may have started even earlier. Māori exports to Australia grew in the 1800s leading up to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and included Māori forming bonds with local tāngata whenua in Australia. Growing European settler numbers raised demand and resources further with trade numbers increasing particularly with the gold rushes in both countries, which brought an influx of new wealth.
In the mid-1860s, over half of New Zealand’s trade was with Australia, and 70 percent of all New Zealand exports had Australia as their destination. The introduction of refrigeration and New Zealand developing a closer trade relationship with the United Kingdom, contributed to a continued drop in exports to Australia until approximately 1930, after which it reached a relative plateau below five percent of total exports.