New Zealand - France ditch cliches to grow trade ties

18 March 2016

Guillaume Pepy, head of state-owned rail giant SNCF, this week led a group of top executives from 25 French companies to New Zealand, the first delegation of its type since 1997. 

New Zealand and France to move beyond clichés about wine and cheese to revive trade relationship, according to the head of a major French business delegation.

"These companies are seriously thinking about investing in New Zealand," he told AFP, explaining the 19-year gap between delegations was because "the two countries are a little bit far away from each other".

"Official data puts two-way trade between New Zealand and France at about NZ$1.6 billion (US$1.1 billion; 970 million euro) a year."

But the figure has been virtually stagnant for the past decade, growing at just 0.6 percent a year. 

"We can do much better," Pepy said.

"According to the business leaders (in the delegation to Auckland), we can increase the exchange flows by 50 percent in two or three years."

While France is a major player in New Zealand's wine market and there are big partnerships in the dairy industry, Pepy said the delegation was showcasing a broader range of French business offerings.

"We haven't discussed luxury goods or traditional French clichés," he said.

"We've mainly discussed infrastructure modernisation, environmental solutions and industrial organisation."

Pepy said French companies offered expertise in areas as diverse as light rail, "green" buildings, financial services and setting up delivery centres.

The delegation had generated positive leads and was, he added, a catalyst for regular exchanges to ensure the trade relationship was never again neglected for so long.

"Coming back to New Zealand after all this time is like rediscovering an old friend," he said, citing a shared free enterprise culture and common values.

"We understand each other."

Agence France-Presse