Every now and again, political parties bring acknowledged experts into their caucuses (almost always on the list) in an effort to bolster core competency and skills in a specialist area. Sometimes these individuals do well; sometimes they don’t. What history does show, however, is that no matter how smart or successful a person has been in a previous career, political experience and smarts cannot be fast-tracked.
There is no doubting Tim Groser’s experience as a trade diplomat. The fact that a few in NZ’s international trade circles don’t speak as highly of him as he does of himself may be professional jealousy – or simply the size of his formidable ego, but that is another story.
The question I ask re the success of the Groser experiment has nothing to do with his trade negotiation competencies, but rather concerns his skills as a political operator around the cabinet table.
John Key and Bill English speak constantly about growing NZ’s export markets, and we recently heard Mr Key say that we should be aiming to double our trade with China. Well, most parties (Greens exempted – they’ve voted against every FTA this term) agree with increasing the level, volume, consistently, sustainability and quality of our exports, but how is the country’s business community supposed to take advantage of the potential opportunities that FTAs present when the Nats have just cut millions from successful trade development schemes? When I asked Groser about this in parliament he gave the typically smart-arse answer that he expected his staff to do more with less. Okay…
The bottom line is that the national rhetoric simply does not match the trade funding.
The advantage to the country in having someone like Phil Goff as Trade Minister is that not only was he excellent around the international negotiation table, but also just as competent a negotiator around the cabinet table. Someone as seasoned and smart as Phil knew exactly how to negotiate the minefield that is the budget process and who to talk to and deal with when securing funding for his portfolio. It is these skills – as well as portfolio competencies – that make a very successful Minister.
This is why I ask the question if the Groser experiment has been successful. There is no point negotiating FTA’s if NZ companies haven’t the competencies and / or backup and / or support to internationalise their products and services. The cuts to trade development funding during Groser’s time as Trade Minister cannot be ignored.
Do more with less Mr Groser.? Hmmm. Somehow I don’t think this is the right answer. Surely NZ companies with export potential deserve better. What it does prove, is just how effective Phil Goff was as a champion for NZ trade. And what a great PM he will make.!!