Rebalance the economy first

The Herald published this gem two days ago. Well done, them. For some years our “cultural cringe” on hearing that foreigners might hold opinions of us has been, thankfully, fading as we mature. Unfortunately the new default position for many of us is that we are naturally held in some kind of universal esteem. Barry Brill here looks beyond that, pointing out that we’ve been marketing our country to ourselves, because around the world, still, few have heard of us. He also tells the government to leave marketing to the experts.

One thing is quite clear – “clean green” is not this country’s brand. It isn’t a brand at all, says a Government Advisory Group reporting on “Greening New Zealand’s Growth”.

The national brand “New Zealand” carries a collection of attributes for foreigners. Cleanliness and greenness can be amongst its positive attributes for tourism and food products in certain markets. But we need to understand the perceptions that accompany the words.


This is an adopted article.

The report highlights our ranking as one of “the top three cleanest countries” in terms of official corruption. This cleanliness “has definitely become part of our brand”. Fonterra notes that our brand is preferred because “New Zealand is seen as a natural safe and pure source of secure food nutrition”.

These words are readily associated with clean and unpolluted water, along with high standards of hygiene and quality control. Cleanliness and food safety go hand-in-hand.

The word “green” is associated with our rolling farmlands and forests. Idyllic mental images speak of freshness and nature to crowded food consumers in Hong Kong or Birmingham or Riyadh. The attraction is New Zealand’s colour, not its environmental regulations or its energy intensity. To be sure, activist groups will seek to politicise trade – with slogans such as ‘food miles’ and ‘buy local’.

Fortunately, we don’t see any successful campaigns targeted against the sustainability or regulations of a particular country.

Politicians have argued that our energy tax system (ETS) has improved our “clean & green” reputation internationally, which has in turn increased our export sales.

Neither the products nor the markets have been identified, and nor have the quantities or values. I don’t believe them.

In more than a decade of peddling New Zealand food exports in five continents, I never once heard the expression “clean & green” used by anybody outside this country.

Hordes of importers and retailers remarked upon our magnificent scenery and “beautiful green countryside”. They were often concerned with our food hygiene regulations and sometimes with animal welfare; but never with our energy or environmental laws.

I have asked others who are heavily engaged in selling New Zealand foods – with Silver Fern Farms, Fonterra, Sanford and ENZA – about their experiences with the “clean & green” slogan. They don’t hear about it in the international marketplace. It is endemic only to New Zealand.

The mission of the Advisory Group included “green growth”, “clean technology” and “a lower carbon economy”. Definitions pose a special problem, as none of these terms bear their standard dictionary meanings in bureaucratese.

Green Growth appears to be a synonym for GDP growth, along with some emphasis (and rhetoric) on ‘sustainable development’. Nearly everybody is in favour of sustainable economic growth – along with ‘green jobs’ – so it is a clear PR winner.

Clean Technology or ‘clean-tech’, covers businesses which claim to deliver environmental benefits. The boundaries are superbly elastic. The Economist asks: “Does growing soybeans count? What if you manufacture bicycles? How about the steel that goes into wind turbines?”

A low carbon economy emits fewer greenhouse gases than ordinary economies. In New Zealand, that means less intensive farming and big increases in our trade deficits. Of course, it is very difficult to reconcile this with Growth of any colour.

All these definitional problems won’t matter too much unless the Government were to adopt a policy of picking winners, and offering uneven support to firms and sectors based upon a scale of political correctness. That policy has frequently proved disastrous both here and abroad.

The notion of a ‘green economic revolution’ peaked in about 2009. The Europeans spent up large, then flamed out. The US is still in the throes of morning-after remorse and insolvencies. China’s Pyrrhic victory has brought massive over-capacity in a world of falling demand. Green Growth is an idea whose time has passed.

Missing from the earnest concerns of the Advisory Group are any considerations of price. All 26 recommendations will add avoidable costs to an economy whose products are already seriously over-priced. New Zealand’s tradeable sector (from which all sustainable growth must flow) has now been mired in recession for eight consecutive years. We are simply uncompetitive.

The Government should leave marketing slogans to the marketers and selling pitches to the sales force. Its critical role is to rebalance the economy, allowing our export sector to regain its place in a competitive world.

Barry Brill formerly led the International Division of Wattie industries Ltd

Views: 83

28 Thoughts on “Rebalance the economy first

  1. Huub Bakker on 18/03/2012 at 6:59 pm said:

    In agreement Barry, but I think you will find that ETS stands for Emissions Trading Scheme, unless you were creating a new acronym (which would be rather confusing.)

  2. Huub Bakker on 18/03/2012 at 7:08 pm said:

    Ugh, got distracted before I could edit the comment above. Barry is almost certainly making a cynical jest on the topic of the ETS. embarrassment rules…

  3. Andy on 18/03/2012 at 7:23 pm said:

    Business consortium Pure Advantage are really pushing the clean green image and even sponsoring some Post Normal Science to further their business agenda.

  4. Doug Proctor on 21/03/2012 at 3:41 am said:

    The government probably has spreadsheets to show that exports have increased or at least the monetary value of exports have increased over the past “greening” of NZ. They tie the two together. Correlation, like CO2 and temperatures, implies causation.

    Do you think the MSM even understands the difference between a correlation and a causation? If A then B, if B not necessarily A, I think, is intellectually beyond most of the ex-English majors.

  5. Gary on 21/03/2012 at 7:03 pm said:

    I cringe every time I hear the words Clean Green. There is no country in the world that can claim this. Once again not so bright politicians and spin doctors running the country.

    • Andy on 21/03/2012 at 8:05 pm said:

      Bishop Hill’s post on environmentalists trashing the environment raises some good points

      I seem to remember that NZ made a big deal about CFL lightbulbs. Read the article linked above and weep.

    • Richard C (NZ) on 22/03/2012 at 7:21 am said:

      Gary, as an alternative to Clean Green you might consider using Gang Green.

      Seems appropriate in view of Andy’s article although not quite what you are getting at I understand.

      H/t some blogger whose name I can’t remember.

    • Andy on 22/03/2012 at 8:07 am said:

      Pure Advantage seem to be part of Gang Green.

    • Gary on 23/03/2012 at 4:42 pm said:

      Thanks Richard, Very similar to a serious infection. I have no issues with better more efficient ways of doing things, however a genuine green is far and few. Take all the gadgets and nice to have items that were produced from oil , or from a mine, and then you will have a genuine green. The rest of them are hypocrites.

    • Richard C (NZ) on 23/03/2012 at 5:29 pm said:

      Water in plastic bottles arrayed across UN FCCC/IPCC media conference tables is my favourite hypocrisy.

  6. Alexander K on 22/03/2012 at 8:12 am said:

    Whether NZ is seen in the northern hemisphere as ‘clean and green’ is, in my view, utterly irrelevent as NZ is barely a blip on the radar of public consciousness there.
    I spent most of the past decade living and working in the UK and was frequently annoyed by NZ and other former colonies being written out of British history, most frequently by young Socialist ‘historians’ making programmes about both World Wars for the BBC. Few in the UK seem to know that New Zealanders (and Australians, Canuks etc) were British until the 1960s, when the UK rejected us former colonials as a condition of becoming a part of the then European Common Market; we lost our ‘British’ classification then, at the stroke of a pen in Whitehall.
    Watching one of those wartime epics, I was startled to learn that ‘colonials fought alongside the British’ in great numbers! The film’s makers had no idea that in those days, us ‘colonials’ were as British as anyone born in the British Isles.
    My point is that New Zealand has largely been airbrushed to invisibility in the UK, but is occasionally made visible by the All Blacks when they play during a Rugby World Cup or in the Northern Hemisphere, plus ecoloon campaigns against our meat, dairy and other agricultural products on the thoroughly-discredited argument about air miles. Very few Brit taxpayers realise the size of the subsidies they pay to their own farmers and that they pay nothing in subsidies to our farmers. Our primary producers are frequently condemned for their own efficiency!
    Most sensible people in the UK realise that ‘Pure NZ’ is branding for tourism and little more. I also that know the local Greens would make this branding into a rod to beat us with in their mad drive to ‘decarbonise’ our economy all the way to ruin.
    As a footnote, I was stunned at the anti-All Black sentiment in the UK, particularly in London, during the RWC final match – the French, usually disliked, were seen as the team to support!

  7. PeterM on 23/03/2012 at 2:18 pm said:

    After listening to Monckton on his last visit to NZ I gave a report back to some farmer friends who had missed the event. It consisted of a photo of a twenty year old pine forest – tall trees, brown pine needles and desolate looking silence. Across the photo I wrote 100% pure NZ, crossed out pure and put pine underneath. Then listed some of the key points. Farmers are not keen on all our pastoral land becoming forest and are not impressed by windmills. Few people realise the extent of the land assets held by overseas timber interests. It is ironic that Labour and the Greens are anti Asset sales but pro stricter ETS

  8. Andy on 23/03/2012 at 6:13 pm said:

    The latest madness of green is reported at Bishop Hill

    Because of the mercury, throwing broken energy-saving light bulbs into the ordinary trash is of course prohibited. A waste disposal company from Nuremberg in southern Germany has invented a machine that carefully cuts apart each light bulb and sucks out the fluorescent material and mercury. The mixture is then packed into airtight bags and filled into blue, 300-kilogram barrels. The barrels are loaded onto a truck and taken to a former salt mine in the Harz Mountains of central Germany. Thus, the energy-saving light bulb ends up in an underground waste depot, where it will remain forever as contaminated waste.

    (which I cross-posted to HT)

    • Richard C (NZ) on 27/03/2012 at 9:14 am said:

      Just caught up with where you cross-posted this at HT Andy. I’m sure our host will overlook my linking to it for the record because it is about a nightmare “rebalance of the economy” scenario totally relevant to this post and the first part of which is worthy of repeating here I think:-

      andyS March 23, 2012 at 6:44 pm

      In terms of what might be, or what we have now, we can say that we already have some fairly cumbersome bureaucratic institutions, particularly the awful EU, for which the UN seems very keen to emulate.

      Presumably the 3000+ NGOs recognised by the UN want a piece of the pie in our post-democratic world.
      So what kind of world might this be? My concern is not loss of “liberty”, which is a fairly fuzzy concept, but more that we will be ruled by idiots.

      Your comment seemed to be something of a thread killer because I note the following termination of negotiations:-

      bill March 23, 2012 at 8:41 pm


      andyS March 23, 2012 at 8:43 pm

      bill March 23, 2012 at 8:41 pm


    • Andy on 27/03/2012 at 10:16 am said:

      Yes, it is a hard one to refute. The recent case of the elderly couple in NSW who are 7m above sea level being forced out of their homes because of “climate risks” is a classic case in point.

  9. Flipper on 24/03/2012 at 9:16 am said:

    A little bit late on the post, but in mid-January, the “Outside the Wellington Beltway Group”: in their paper “Demolishing New Zealand’s Political Comfort Zone” said (among other pithy comments on the matter):

    ” … The “knowledge economy”, “sustainability”, “green industries”, “organic foods” and the so called “clean, green image” are essentially “buzz words” that contribute little. Tourism, petroleum, other minerals (two areas with huge potential for future growth if the knee-jerk “wets”: are ignored in favour of economic growth), and manufacturing, all to varying degrees, make very useful contributions. But it is agricultural (in the widest sense) production and exports that under-pin the New Zealand economy. (Agriculture is increasingly the target of the red melons and the left. They ignore the fact that only prosperous developed nations pay any attention to the environment. Third world nations place economic survival and growth ahead of “green” dreams.)

    The ignorance shown by the Green-Labour faction on this question pinned them and their policy positions (to use an obvious pun), in left field. …”

    Seems to sum it up!

    • Richard C (NZ) on 25/03/2012 at 9:05 am said:

      And if NH climatic conditions over the next 30 years or so are such that growing seasons for crops contract and northern limits and zones of cropping move south as a result of a cooling scenario then this represents a huge opportunity for SH food production and export to the NH because the NH will have difficulty feeding themselves.

      There are already signs that this scenario is underway (e.g. winter wheat) but the real effects are not due to be seen for a couple of years yet. If and when it does eventuate, wheat prices will skyrocket as they did in the food crises recently experienced globally. This will mean big paydays for WA and US wheat growers, the latter because although yields would be less, prices would more than compensate. Not so good across Canada, Siberia/Russia or Scandinavia though as everything moves south and hardier varieties like rye come back into prominence.

      When the NH gets hungry (think China), they wont be bothered about “food miles” and it will be SH agriculture that sustains them. Even that is becoming problematic as South American fruit crop losses have shown as a result of cold conditions just as NH fruit has been i.e. the SH is susceptible to a similar phenomenon but less harsh thankfully (or should that be hopefully).

      Basically, agriculture underpins the entire global economy – not just New Zealand’s.

      Contrary to the ‘Demolishing’ paper though, I do think organic farming will play an increasing part in New Zealand agriculture simply because current practices are unsustainable (if the condition of Rotorua lakes are anything to go by). It’s just that the concept of sustainability has been hijacked and manipulated to suit the ulterior motives of ‘Central Control’ fans and needless to say, the UN is going big on sustainability because it gives them leverage for control i.e. the noble cause (sustainability) is ripe for corruption.

      See also:-

      Central Control Caused USSR’s Collapse — And May Cause Ours

    • Richard C (NZ) on 25/03/2012 at 10:57 am said:

      Re ‘Central Control’, JoNova is going big in a similar vein, see:-

      ‘We are all Austrians now’

      “My message to all the sleeping skeptics out there is: get with the game. When I said climate science is the second biggest scam in history, I wasn’t joking.”

  10. Alexander K on 25/03/2012 at 3:10 pm said:

    Richard C, the real problem that is staring us all in the face, in my view, is two-fold and lies in both the general ignorance of populations and in the manipulation of most of the world’s populations by the elites, particularly the UN. As things stand, those who are poor will become poorer and the elites will do their very best to entrench any advantage they have.
    The NZ ETS is but one example of a lie told by an elite, in this case our own government, and the convenient lies will continue to be trotted out to keep the voting public in line; when the lies told by ruling elites become too egregious, as is currently the case in Australia, the population will revolt at the ballot box. But nothing much will change until people lift the level of their own education into what vitally affects them and then demand a higher level of veracity from their politicians.
    We are now (hopefully) looking at the end of the climate scam, but populations must come to understand that the Malthusian doom-laden scenarios beloved of the scarers are merely a remnant of a Medieval understanding of the world that are trotted out to frighten the ill-educated. If people generally understood that ‘sustainability’ is only another buzz-word which will be used to beat us with and that the state of Texas alone, as an example, has sufficient land to allow everyone on earth to live there and to have their own good-sized dwelling, vege garden, etc, without having to live in high-rise apartments and do without civilisation as we know it, I am sure that the current manipulators would lose much of their power.
    I have no desire to live in Texas, but most of us have no concept of the vastness of the land areas available that are very suitable for human habitation.
    After living in South-East England, much of which is classed as ‘Arid’ but where gardens and crops generally flourish if water resources are used sensibly, I do not see much actual advantage accruing from a small shift Southward of the definitions of land that is useful for crop-growing. The metropolitan population of South-East England is generally classed as ‘educated’ but is woefully ignorant of the basic facts about their own land and climate and I suspect most of the increasingly-urbanised population around the world suffer from the same type of ignorance and thus become easy prey for the manipulators.
    The solution to this problem, then, is education.

  11. Alexander K on 27/03/2012 at 8:19 am said:

    I touched on education earlier, but I was not implying the ‘school’ kind of education, but a more general raising of awareness of the weather by and for city-dwellers generally. After growing up in the agricultural reaches of the lower North Island, I was surprised by the mildness and warmth of Summer when we moved to South-East of the UK near London and how little actual water precipitated during showers. The usual reaction there by the locals to any sort of gentle shower was to describe said showers as ‘chuckin’ it dahn!’ Most of the population of South-East England appear to believe their climate is absolutely awful and they seldom tire of discussing it in the gloomiest of terms, but their climate is officially classed as ‘Arid’, similar to that of Spain, where many Brits go for sunny holidays!
    For the last thirty years I have maintained a rain gauge and a max-min thermometer in the back yard of wherever we have lived as our means of staying in touch with climate reality. I read the rain gauge before emptying it each morning, then chart my readings for each day, along with the min-max temperatures. In addition to this, we also keep an eye on our barometer and the humidity, so that our awareness of the weather is based on fact – we actually know how much rain has fallen where we live on any given day, we know the temperature range we experience, which means we do not have to rely on the veracity of meeja people who, as thoroughly urban creatures, merely pass on the accepted climate scare story of the day. We are also more aware of the passing of the seasons and of the utter fatuity of doom-laden pronouncements from ‘climate scientists’ who insist they can record temperature to within one percentage point of a degree and tell us a new record for something or other has been reached. In effective terms .5 of a degree seems like sufficient accuracy for all practical purposes for me.
    I have also educated myself in the methodology of arriving at global temperatures, and was initially amazed to learn that over 70% of our planet is covered by oceans and the 30% that is left is not well covered by weather stations and that the ‘global average temperatures’ so loudly trumpeted by the same ‘climate scientists’ has a large enough fudge factor to make your average dodgy car salesman appear to be a pillar of rectitude and veracity by comparison.
    The introduction of orbiting weather satellites and the network of Argo floats in the oceans has improved the readings, but their history is still comparatively too short for establishing climactic trends.
    And the more I learn, the less I believe any disaster scenarios promulgated through the mainstream media.

    • Andy on 27/03/2012 at 10:10 am said:

      For the last thirty years I have maintained a rain gauge and a max-min thermometer in the back yard of wherever we have lived as our means of staying in touch with climate reality

      How many people can claim to have done this?
      Alexander K, what a legend!

    • Alexander K on 27/03/2012 at 12:30 pm said:

      You are embarrassing me, Andy! Many people in the rural sector ‘do the weather thing’ every day. When one’s livelihood is weather-dependant, it seems sensible to have the facts at hand and once the habit is developed it seems logical to keep doing it in order to know ‘what’s going on’ regardless of how one earns an income.

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