Phil Goff: NZ 'on the edge of being over-reliant' on China

Source: Q and A

Outgoing Auckland mayor and former Trade Minister Phil Goff says New Zealand is "on the edge of being over-reliant" on China.

Phil Goff.

Goff, who was Trade Minister when the free trade agreement was signed between New Zealand and China in 2008, told Q+A Kiwis should take advantage of the free trade deal with UK and the European Union.

"We need to develop those other markets because it's never good for us to be totally reliant on one country, as we were once totally reliant on the United Kingdom."

Goff estimated that about 32% of New Zealand's total exports were going to China, citing figures from a 2022 report by the NZ China Council. That report said it seemed "unlikely that New Zealand firms are unaware of the risks of focusing heavily or solely on the Chinese market".

"How the trade agreement [with China] has worked has been brilliant. You know, our two-way trade was probably $4 billion or $5 billion when I signed that deal. Now it's $37 billion," Goff said.

"We would be a much poorer country if we didn't have a market for our goods that paid the top dollar."

In March, NZ Herald reported Goff will become New Zealand's next High Commissioner to the UK. The appointment is yet to be formally announced.

It comes 41 years since Goff entered public office, first as MP for Roskill in 1981. Since then, "the nature of the world has changed", he said.

"The environment used to be an issue on the margins; now it's mainstream and centre, and rightly so.

"Have people become less adversarial [in politics]? Possibly not. And one of the things, I've got to say, that I enjoyed when I got out of Parliament was not just being in that adversarial atmosphere.

"Maybe it's part of democracy - you need to challenge and question what the Government is doing… [but] I hope we can maintain a system where we don't get the bitterness, the hatred, the divisiveness that you see even in a country like the United States today," Goff said.

Goff became Labour leader in 2008, after the party's election defeat that year saw Helen Clark resign. By the time the 2011 general election approached, one 1News Colmar Brunton poll had Labour's party vote at 27% after a leaked policy proposal for a capital gains tax.

The 27% figure was replicated at the election, and Goff stepped down as party leader soon after.

Years on, Goff said he still believes in the capital gains tax.

"I stand by that. Some people said, 'That might have been a bit suicidal; that might not have enhanced your chances.' I hope the time will come when New Zealand does what almost every other country in the world does."

The political leader who can get that over the line is someone who can persuade people that "if we don't have taxes or rates, we have a far less fair society", he said.

"What drives me mad is you get something like the Taxpayers [Union] or the [Taxpayers' Union-backed Auckland] Ratepayers' Alliance - they know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

"If we were to follow their advice … we would have an incredibly poor society and an inequitable one."

In July, the Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance took the "unprecedented step of praising Mayor Phil Goff for his fiscal prudence" because he had consistently "underspent" his annual office budget since 2018.

"We remain critical of Mayor Goff’s policies and leadership style. But it is important to give praise where praise is due," spokesperson Josh van Veen said.