New Zealand used to have the reputation of being a quiet
backwater, with sheep and fearsome rugby players its only exports. Visiting was
like going back to the 1950s, it was said, and not necessarily as a criticism.
Yet over the last decade or so, the Land of the Long White
Cloud has undergone an economic revolution.
Much of it is due to the international popularity of
high-end primary sector products, including sea bass, kiwi fruit, Braeburn
apples, and, above all, some of the best white wines in the world.
These have taken advantage of the image of New Zealand as a
wholesome, outdoors sort of country. That image was both exploited and enhanced
by television series like Xena Warrior
Princess, and then the Lord of the
Rings films, which put the small nation on the world cultural and tourist
Yet excessive taxes and regulation still make it a tough
place to do business.
Unusually – but not uniquely – such liberalisation as there
has been has come mainly from the left, the incumbent Labour Party, which faces
a General Election in November, but more radical reform is needed if the
country is to live up to the potential of its natural resources.