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Coronavirus: New Zealand needs to wise up, says report

Tom Pullar-Strecker09:07, May 20 2020

Robert Kitchin/Stuff

Sir Peter Gluckman says changes will be needed to attract foreign investment in wake of Covid-19.

Foreign companies may shift research work and management teams to New Zealand to take advantage of the country's "hopefully Covid-free status", former chief science adviser Peter Gluckman says.

But he said the country might need to invest more in higher education to make the most of the opportunity provided by its reputation, standing and "well-connected and safe environment".

Gluckman and other members of an Auckland University think-tank, the Centre for Informed Futures, said in a report that New Zealanders needed to think about the impact of Covid-19 on the country's place in the world.

There were many opportunities available, they said.

But co-author John Allen, a former chief executive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said there were also risks, as New Zealand would have little ability to influence the "shifting world order".

New Zealand needed to re-energise its relationship with China, as it was still New Zealand's top trading partner and should use less-traditional vehicles for relationship-building such as science and culture, he said.

"We do not have to choose between the major powers and we should not do so.”

Microsoft's investment in a New Zealand data centre could be an early sign that New Zealand will be in favour with technology giants.

The report said geopolitics appeared to be at an inflection point, "moving to a multipolar or even a leaderless world".

"In the eyes of many, the US is no longer a reliable leader, and many consequences might flow from this." it said.

"The Covid-19 outbreak may be a catalyst for further regression into a nationalist and protectionist mindset."

It would be "naive to expect a rapid reversal of these trends" even if there was a change in administration after the US election on November 3, the report added.

To date, the most-trumpeted investment that New Zealand has attracted since the coronavirus pandemic has been from Microsoft.

Earlier in May it became the first of the big three cloud service providers — which also include Amazon and Google — to announce it would establish a data centre in New Zealand, at an expected cost of more than $100 million.

Microsoft's president Brad Smith said he had spent some time in New Zealand last year and met with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

But the Auckland University report said New Zealand might need to make significant structural changes to attract foreign direct investment.

"We would need to invest much more significantly in research and development and in ensuring the quality of our higher education resulted in a workforce that would act as an attractor," he said.


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