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The New Zealand School of Export is celebrating five years of operation, which prompted Exporter magazine to catch up with the School’s director and founder Romuald Rudzki.
E: The five year milestone is a good opportunity to look back and reflect. What, for you, have been the standout moments from those years? 
Rom: The landmarks have clearly been the official opening in 2007 by Steve Maharey when he was Minister of Education and our local MP; the financial and marketing support from NZTE during Export Year 2007 which helped us get our first exporters on board; the launching of ELIS, our free online trade portal which has become the global standard; the first graduations of our exporters in 2009; being a finalist in the VERO Excellence in Business Awards; and in 2011 NZTE recognising us as a supplier for their Management Capability Development Voucher Scheme which means that eligible companies get 50 percent of their costs met when they work with us.  
There have also been low points and looking back 2007 was probably not the best year to start anything, as it was just before the GFC, which is still with us and deepening. But we are still here and have no intention of quitting.

E: How popular has the Diploma of International Trade been, and has its uptake lived up to your original expectations? 
Rom: Our expectations were based on the fact that we only work with New Zealand exporters or staff in support organisations such as NZTE. We’ve made a business decision not to recruit school-leavers, the general public or international students. This limited the potential numbers but we are a niche distance education provider concerned solely with raising the capability of our exporters – of which New Zealand has some 8000. 
Since we started we have had staff from multinationals such as Fonterra; established companies such as Atrax airport weighing machines and Cowell’s Pavlovas of Dunedin; plus start-ups such as New Zealand Liquor Resources who are now sending container-loads to China. NZTE staff who have completed the programme include Ziena Jalil, now the trade commissioner in Singapore. 
To answer your question, we could certainly do with more exporters, especially from smaller companies who want to grow large. We have only reached just over one percent of that 8000! The most humbling aspect is the wonderful things our exporters say about us and the value of the help they’ve had from the School.

E: You’ve no doubt met many interesting export professionals during your time at the School. Who have been some of the standout students and what stories can you share about the positive outcomes from your courses? 
Rom: We don’t call them ‘students’ but ‘exporters’ to remind us that they are all working full-time and trying to get their professional qualification under their belt at the same time.
We actually lost one exporter during their first module after giving them advice on how to handle a request from the Middle East – they won the contract to provide services and were so busy as a result they had to stop their studies! That was quite an outcome both for them and for us. 
Apart from that we invite some of the exporters to become adjunct faculty of the School such as Pierre Schindler, who is now the global supply chain co-ordinator at Fonterra’s European headquarters in Amsterdam. 
Another exporter who is now adjunct faculty is Dean (Dehua) Pan who specialises in getting New Zealand foods into China. The adjuncts provide incredible insights into the practicalities of doing business, such as Dean’s point that, “You don’t go into China; you don’t even go into a region of China. You go into one city which may have a population of 15 million.”

E: What is the background and significance of the School being accredited by IATTO?
Rom: IATTO is the global body founded in the 1970s that sets the professional standards for those working in international trade. 
Getting Accredited Provider status in 2008 after a three-year process – including a site-visit by the former IATTO chair Rose Blatch – was key to proving how much progress we had made. At the end of her inspection visit Rose said, “This is how we started in South Africa 25 years ago,” which gives you some idea of just how far behind New Zealand is with the rest of the world. The Accredited Provider status meant that we were deemed to be at the same standard as other bodies – such as the UK Institute of Export.
For New Zealand, it means that we now have an organisation that provides the same standard of international trade professional development as overseas competitors get in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Britain and other leading industrialised nations. 
This may well explain why those countries are so much better at exporting than we are.
E: What new initiatives does the School have for 2012? 

Rom: We are now ready to grow having built the foundations both in terms of the content of what we do (New Zealand materials, ELIS online trade portal, exporter case studies, export checklists and template documents) as well as our processes (such as building the networks of stakeholders including Chambers of Commerce, recruitment, ongoing adviser support and admin systems). 
We will be raising our profile so that we become known as the place to go for exporters who want to turn professional, or as I say “would you use an amateur dentist?” 
Finally, we have survived on the smell of an oily rag for five years but we now need major New Zealand benefactors to support what we do. We have proved we can compete at the international level, now we need backers to help us move to the next stage, just as so many of our exporters need investment to help their businesses grow. 

E: What is the feedback you are getting on the performance of our export sector? What will the newly-elected government need to do to stimulate our export sector? 
Rom: The most recent Global Competitiveness Report (2011-2012) shows New Zealand slipping further behind – dropping to 25th place and being overtaken by Israel and Malaysia. That comes on top of the credit rating downgrades. Unfortunately we have a monetarist mindset within Treasury which is ideologically wedded to the belief in the free market but unfortunately it’s not shared by other countries such as the US which is ruthless in exploiting FTAs (such as their insistence on New Zealand closing down Pharmac as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal).  
To be honest, New Zealand has been very badly served by governments of all persuasions and we continue to decline because we still cling to the mistaken belief that we can somehow muddle along and get through. What we need is a comprehensive economic plan founded on an export-based economy. One which includes all the essentials such as use of the Superannuation Fund to invest in New Zealand export companies (rather than losing billions playing roulette in the global stock markets), an Export Bank that has a different view than the ludicrously high interest rates of the Reserve Bank, more funding for NZTE both here and abroad, and major tax breaks for income earned overseas. 
Asset sales is not an economic policy. Neither is opening up coal, gas or oil reserves to foreign ownership. New Zealand could become a world leader – as so many of its exporters are. Instead we lack the visionary political leadership that can see beyond opinion polls and photo opportunities to a radically new kind of economy that will serve us now and preserve the legacy for our children. Just as in rugby, we are one kick away from defeat and need to raise our game if we are to continue to win and stay in the game.