New Zealand’s management of Covid-19 has heightened its perception as an ideal source of foreign goods in the Chinese market, say business experts.
Since the pandemic broke out China has imposed a number of strict Covid policies, that like New Zealand, has helped keep the virus at bay for much of the last two years.
And while other nations moved to living with the virus more quickly, China is still sticking to its Zero Covid policies despite some criticism around how viable this is in the long-term.
Kiwi businessman David Mahon is based in Beijing. He says Covid cases have risen rapidly in the last few weeks, putting a lot of restrictions on movement across the country.
“Covid is present all over China, in the form of Omicron, and they are trying to maintain the same policy,” he says. “Which I know is quite controversial.”
China is facing its worst Covid surge since the beginning of the pandemic, as Omicron and its cousin the BA.2 variant have proven more difficult to contain.
The number of daily Covid-19 infections hit a two year high this month and has seen tens of millions of people across the country remain confined to their homes.
Jilin Province in the north-east has been the hardest hit, reporting the country’s first Covid-related deaths in a year. The industrial city of Shenyang - with nine million people - was the latest to be locked down as health authorities reported 4770 new infections across the country.
Mahon says the economic ramifications of another year or even six months of such strict controls will have an effect on economic growth in China.
But he says giving up on Zero Covid does come with the risk of a wide-spread impact on the health system.
“The population density is so great, even a slight rise in hospitalisations could put massive pressure on the systems, so for that reason they are trying to maintain a Zero Covid policy.”
He says Kiwis trading in China could see their business slow in the short term. But in the long run, how New Zealand has managed Covid has seen the appeal of Kiwi goods reach an all-time high.
“New Zealand has moved into the number one most trusted country for buying anything,” he says. “In the process of Covid people really want fresh food, our products are very much preferred, whether it’s Rockit apples or Zespri kiwifruit, people are looking for good products from other sources.
Ashin Pillay is a commercial manager at Redfern Digital, an agency based in China. He says the perception of New Zealand as having that “clean, green, safe, healthy, supply chain is still very resilient” in the China market.
Managing director of China Skinny Mark Tanner says while New Zealand is looked on more favourably there is also a shift inside the Chinese market to local products too, that may pose some challenges to those entering the market.
“New Zealand has played [geo-political challenges] a lot more tactfully than say Australia and America and the UK. But overall it’s really risen this Chinese patriotism, and nationalism which has made it a bit more difficult for foreign brands.”
He says the main impact the current lockdown will have on Kiwi businesses working in the region will be around supply chains.
“You’ve got Shanghai port which is the busiest in the world, not really operating as normal, and then you’ve got their airports closed for international flights,” he says.
“New Zealand’s really been hit by the supply chain issues for the last two years, [the latest lockdown] may slow things down even further.”