PM Jacinda Ardern prioritises SMEs in bid to strengthen trade with Australia; Says she wants to speed up progression towards a single economic market

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has taken New Zealand one step closer to establishing a ‘Trans-Tasman Single Economic Market’ (SEM) with Australia.

On Friday afternoon, prime ministers from both sides of the Tasman commissioned a taskforce to investigate factors that are holding small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) back when conducting trans-Tasman business.

Both governments will also review their respective policy and regulatory frameworks to bolster digital trade between New Zealand and Australia.

“I see this as the next step in CER [the Closer Economic Relations agreement] and an extension of the potential that exists in the agenda for a Trans-Tasman SEM,” Ardern, who is meeting with Malcolm Turnbull in Australia, said.

Progression towards a SEM began 15 years ago, spearheaded by former Minister of Finance Michael Cullen.

In 2009, under the National-led Government, Prime Ministers John Key and Kevin Rudd committed to a framework to further develop the concept.

Progression since then has been slow, Ardern acknowledged in a speech she delivered on Friday.

“We want to see progress sped up in relation to smaller businesses especially in areas like the streamlining of trans-Tasman travel,” she said.

Three-quarters of New Zealand SMEs export their products to Australia and more Australian firms export to New Zealand than any other country.

In 2017, two-way trade between the two countries totalled more than NZ$150 billion.

Ardern said businesses have been lobbying her Government to make doing trans-Tasman business easier.

“The first leap into exporting for the majority of SMEs in both Australia and New Zealand is across the Tasman and it’s often a springboard from there to the global market,” she said.

She used the speech to underpin the importance of Australia to the New Zealand economy, saying it will be “a central focus of my Government’s agenda”.

“New Zealand and Australia. Business and government. We are each bound together.

“And the more we work together, the more likely we are to succeed.”