Opinion by Tony Orman

What lessons can New Zealand learn from the covid-19 experience? Frankly I am apprehensive that obvious needs which were exposed during the virus’s reign will probably not be heeded by politicians, whoever is in government following this year’s election.

People often referred to the Prime Minister’s ‘leadership’. This leadership tag I disagree with on an important fundamental point. The PM is not our leader. In the present government, Jacinda Ardern is simply the most senior public servant in the land. MPs and the faceless bureaucrats are all public servants and MPs need reminding of this at each election — in case they forget.

The economic impact of the virus has been severe particularly on individuals with loss of employment and many still saddled with hefty mortgages. 

But collectively for New Zealand, are we playing the wrong game, mindlessly pursuing economic growth under the mantra of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)? Hand in hand with GDP goes free trade.

Questioning the obsession with growth

Dougnut EconomicsAn increasing number of economists are questioning the myopic, solely dollar-driven GDP doctrine which is akin to a dog chasing its tail. People, welfare and quality of life are important and economists such as Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economics, say there is a much better way in a Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) which embraces not just economic values, but social and environmental ones, too.

Questions and debate needs to happen now. Should we be pursuing free trade or adopt a policy of fair trade? NZ has a free trade deal with China, stitched up by the John Key government. China has infiltrated the NZ’s dairying industry to an alarming degree and has been freely buying land and resources here. But Kiwis cannot buy land in China: is that free trade? Or is it unfair trade?

Work towards more self sufficiency

Pork NZThere are things I just don’t understand about free trade. For example, NZ exports 173 tonnes of pork, valued at $1 million. But then NZ imports pork from a range of countries including Belgium, Canada, Poland, China, and Estonia and the Philippines, all of which have African Swine Fever (ASF) which can devastate pig herds. Would it not be more logical for the NZ pork industry to totally supply the domestic market?

I don’t understand why we import California oranges, kiwi fruit, plums and other produce when we grow them here. Other similar examples abound in supermarkets.

Which raises the question: why does NZ instead of dogmatically pursuing free trade and open borders, with the risk of introducing diseases and pests, aim for greater self-sufficiency?  

The need for self-sufficiency and fair trade — lessons we can take from the pandemic.