UPFRONT Manufacturing blueprint needed

A blueprint that encompasses everything from fire helmets to dishwashers sounds like big ask – but New Zealand’s manufacturers have come up with policy wishlist they think will improve the whole sector’s future health.
More money going into transport infrastructure, less red tape and freer trade are part of policy package being promoted by industry bodies in series of meetings being held around the country. These are not just grump sessions – the sector has lot to celebrate, said Business NZ chief Phil O’Reilly at the Auckland launch of his organisation’s booklet on “manufacturing perspectives”.
Largely export-dependent, it is well geared for global competition with style all its own – slim, nimble and clever.
“The relative size of New Zealand’s specialised companies has made them flexible and innovative problem solvers, creating unique, cost-effective solutions to customer needs,” says O’Reilly.
But with big opportunities looming in Asian markets, he and Employers & Manufacturers Association CEO Alasdair Thompson are stressing the need for concerted approach to sector improvements. They don’t want handouts – but they do want the Government to make changes on three fronts: infrastructure, regulatory efficiency, and market access.
For instance, to ease cost and time wastage lost to traffic congestion (particularly in Auckland), Business NZ advocates changing the Land Transport Management Act to facilitate road tolls and give greater priority to roading upgrades. Streamlining the Resource Management Act to limit vexatious claims would also speed roading improvements.
Another area of concern is energy supply and the Kyoto Accord’s carbon tax is criticised as tax on energy that is therefore tax on growth. Again the RMA is implicated in slowing the construction of new energy plant and Business New Zealand would like to see the privatisation of more state-owned energy generators/retailers to increase competition and lower costs.
The other major infrastructure blockage is the current acute shortage of skills. Actions to ease this include changes to immigration policy, more spending on industry training and better education at both secondary and tertiary levels.
Under the regulatory efficiency banner, Business NZ wants such things as: changes to the RMA; lower taxes and tax incentives for R&D; reduced compliance costs; improved systems for allocating natural resources (such as water); and improvements to labour market flexibility – simplifying the Holidays Act, restoring choice both in terms of accident cover options and removing union monopoly over collective bargaining, for starters.
The Government earns plaudits for its pursuit of free trade agreements but Business NZ targets the need for policies that would allow an FTA with the United States, improvements to the CER agreement with Australia and more on-the-ground help in export markets as areas that need addressing.
As speakers at the Auckland meeting pointed out, manufacturing employs one in seven Kiwis, generates around $10 billion in wages and contributes 15 percent ($5 billion year) to our GDP. It’s big enough to deserve manufacturing policy all its own – one based on good solid data that, thus far, only Business New Zealand collects, notes O’Reilly.

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