China Business: Changing landscape (NZ Herald)

Ye Miao, head of the Asia Team at James & Wells talks to Tim McCready about the foreign investment law passed recently in China.

 Herald: What areas will the new foreign investment law address?

The new Foreign Investment Law, passed by the Chinese National Congress on  March 15, 2019, and coming into force on 1 January 2020, seeks to promote foreign investment into China by further easing market access for foreign businesses and encouraging foreign investment on a government administrative and policy level.

The new law addresses specific areas of concern for foreign businesses looking to invest in China, such as forced technology transfers. It also intends to help strengthen intellectual property (IP) protection and level the playing field in terms of market competition between foreign and domestic businesses.

Herald:  Will the new law allay uncertainty about doing business in China?

It’s important to consider the new law as a framework for the Chinese Government to set out its principles and intentions to further ease market access in China and respond to some of the concerns held by foreign businesses and investors in the China market. It is not necessarily a prescriptive set of rules that govern every eventuality. There is an expectation, however, that it will lead to stronger, more efficient compliance and enforcement.

There are some very promising principles in it.  For instance, Article 22 specifically enunciates the principle of protecting the intellectual property rights of foreign investors and enforcing them against infringing parties, consistent with Chinese intellectual property law.

Importantly for foreign investors, Article 22 also affirms that foreign investors will not be forced into technology transfers as part of their investment into China.

Article 23 also seeks to further protect the trade secrets of foreign investors from being disclosed by government officials and employees.

Other principles set out in the new Foreign Investment Law include:

  • Restriction of investment based on a negative list of specific industries/fields. Outside of these, the Chinese Government will afford the same national treatment to foreign investment.
  • In Government procurement processes, foreign businesses will be given equal treatment as local Chinese businesses.
  • Confirmation that capital invested in China, and profits made by foreign investors may freely be transferred in and out of China.
  • Stronger wording that Government will not seek to impose unwarranted actions that interfere with the business activities of foreign enterprises, and that the Government will fulfil policy and contractual commitments with foreign investors and enterprises.
  • Compensation and complaint mechanisms where commitments are broken and/or the where there is any infringement of the foreign business’ lawful rights.

Some commentators have rightfully noted that the new law still lacks substance in a number of areas, due to its breadth and vagueness.

While this is a cause for concern, it is important to remember that it is not uncommon for Chinese law to be set out as a framework of principles and intentions, necessitating further development and interpretation.

Herald:  How will this impact on the business environment for foreign firms?

This will ultimately depend on interpretation of the new law, and related laws and enforcement of these principles by Chinese authorities.  We hope it will drive a change of business and administrative behaviour in specific areas such as those relating to intellectual property theft or the disclosure of trade secrets, but we cannot expect change to happen overnight.

Overall, China has become a much better and often very lucrative place to invest and do business in over the past two decades.  We are cautiously optimistic that the principles and intentions set out in the new law represent further progress.

Herald: What are the challenges New Zealand businesses face when interacting with the China Trademark Office?

One of the significant challenges facing the Chinese Trademark Office (CTMO) and the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board (TRAB) is the rising volume of trademark applications, oppositions and proceedings.  According to the most recent statistics in China, there are over 18  million trademarks registered in China.

In 2018 alone, the CTMO received almost 7.4 million applications and examined over 8 million.

That represents over 20,000 applications and 22,000  examinations per day.

This puts immense pressure on the CTMO to both process the applications quickly and to act by the book, and has resulted in examiners often taking very conservative positions. Very prescriptive interpretations are taken where there are prior marks that include even minor similarities with the applied for trademark, which means an estimated 50 per cent or more of all applications are now rejected in the first instance. Applicants then have just 15 days to respond.

Therefore, it’s important for a business to consider its options in depth and to engage a trademark professional to assess the examination report and respond to it by the deadline. Often, objections can be overcome at the TRAB appeal level where there is more time for examiners to consider the applications and evidence in support, or through other actions.

Where the TRAB issues an unfavourable decision, an appeal can still be made to the Beijing IP Court. Unfortunately, however, these processes can be time-consuming and costly, so it is worthwhile to have back-up plans and an overall strategy in place. Unfortunately, the high volume of applications can mean that your potential brand (words and logos) may already be taken by someone else. As such, it is wise to consider checking the availability of your brand as trademarks in the development stage of your branding, so that you don’t overcommit on a brand that you may not be able to use or register in your chosen markets.

Herald:  How do you see the long-term outlook for IP protection in China?

China has been updating and improving its intellectual property laws and process over the past decade, and it is continually doing so. For instance, it is currently in the process of updating its patent laws, and has recently had high-level discussions as to its trademark laws and processes. These discussions have involved IP professionals as well as businesses.

While there are still frustrating processes and wait times, the overall goals of the IP authorities are admirable.

They have sought to recruit more examiners to help reduce examination times, set up the Beijing IP court to deal with specific IP matters expediently, and taken drastic steps to reduce trademark squatters.

Herald: Are New Zealand businesses ready to take advantage of the changing opportunities in China?

Some are well-prepared, others less so. In addition to a good product or service, it’s important that New Zealand businesses have a good story, and that they properly assess opportunities in key markets.

We strongly recommend carrying out due diligence in advance of entering China, and engaging someone on the ground with knowledge of your industry or sector.

And of course, we recommend taking early and appropriate steps to protect your IP and trade secrets.

And be mindful of the different cultural forces in play — what works in New Zealand does not necessarily work in other markets like China.

China Business: Cyberport seen as key to success (NZ Herald)

Hong Kong’s Cyberport has a vision to “be the hub for digital technology, creating a key economic driver for Hong Kong”.

Wholly owned by the Hong Kong Government, Cyberport works with start-ups and entrepreneurs to help them  grow in the digital tech industry — which the Government has identified as  a key to success for businesses and an essential economic driver.

Cyberport’s campus — 100,000sq m   of office space  20 minutes from Hong Kong’s centre — is tailor-made for the creative digital community. It is home to over 1000 technology companies and start-ups, consisting of established big names in tech including Microsoft, Lenovo and IBM — as well as fledgling start-ups and aspiring entrepreneurs, and is designed to “foster creativity and innovation,” and provide a platform to connect start-ups and entrepreneurs to investors, academic and industry partners and mentors.

Cyberport says Hong Kong “is well positioned to be a centre of international talent, a gateway for Greater Bay Area cities, and a fintech hub to connect Belt and Road countries to the China mainland and the world”.  With that in mind, it places an emphasis on particular tech sectors — smart living, fintech, and digital entertainment — areas it says are essential for Hong Kong’s digital transformation and new industry development. Alongside these, it focuses on blockchain and AI/big data — platform technologies  applicable across many digital tech areas.

The Hong Kong Government recently allocated HK$100m (NZ$18.7m) to Cyberport, with half to go towards creating a competition venue for large-scale e-sports (video game) tournaments, as Hong Kong plans to become a regional hub for what is expected to be a billion-dollar industry this year and continue to grow rapidly.

“Cyberport was chosen because it has strong network facilities,” said Secretary for Information and Technology Nicholas Yang. “To develop e-sports, to provide live streaming of competitions, we need a strong and stable network — this is something that Cyberport can provide… Our goal is to create a new industry.”

GoGoVan became Cyperport’s — and Hong Kong’s — first unicorn (a term given to privately held start-ups valued at over $1 billion) in 2017. The app-based logistics platform connects van drivers with customers, creating an efficient logistics on demand service for the delivery of freight and goods.

Founded in 2013, in its early days GoGoVan received HK$100,000 (NZ$18,750) in seed funding from the Cyberport Creative Micro Fund, then joined the Cyberport Incubation Programme to develop its business further. It went on to secure funding from Alibaba and other investors, and now has a presence across Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Mainland China, Taiwan and India.

Several New Zealand companies have  made use of Cyberport’s facilities to springboard into Asia. Just Service is one example — a fintech company that provides support applications for independent financial advisers, insurance companies, and banks.

Chief executive Phil Neilson established the business in 2014, starting with a workstation at Cyberport.

He says Cyberport provides a low-cost solution for start-ups with facilities “like you would imagine at Google in the US,” along with access to support services and a network of start-ups and other young, successful companies.

China Business: Improving customer transport choices (NZ Herald)

A smart mobility data platform was recently launched in two Chinese cities — Chengu and Shenzhen.

The platform, known as the “PAIR mobility exchange,” offers the Mobility as a Service (MaaS) promise, of bringing together journey planning, ticketing, and payment for all transport modes into a single application.

The co-founder of the PAIR platform in Australia and New Zealand, Mark Thomas, says Mobility as a Service offers transformational benefits for city residents. These include:

  • Safer, expanded services for passengers
  • More transparent and lower overall transport costs.
  • Reduced traffic congestion with increased transportation efficiency.
  • Lower cost of operation for taxi operators with more frequent trips.
  • Greatly improved data-driven planning and regulation.

Integrated ticketing platforms are not new. Helsinki-based company Whim recently launched last year in Birmingham in the UK and covers all modes of transport — from public transport, taxis, car hire and bikes. It offers a pay-as-you-go option, as well as an unlimited service, which provides locals with unlimited public transport, all taxi rides within a three-mile radius of their location, and car hire for £349 per month (NZ$675). Berlin and Singapore are also proceeding with MaaS trials and the MaaS Alliance has been formed in Europe as a public-private partnership to facilitate its deployment.

The PAIR platform in Shenzhen will allow customers to integrate multiple ride options together for any particular journey.

The platform not only aggregates existing taxi providers into one online platform, it also allows customers to combine public transport and other sharing economy platforms such as e-scooters to get to their destination.

Thomas says he is now looking to Auckland and Sydney, and says he sees it providing a real solution to both cities’ congestion problems as well as improving big event transport planning.

“PAIR creates a way for cities to better utilise their existing transport assets.

“It is a win-win-win for customers, operators and regulators. Transport users get easier access to a greater range of mobility choices,” he says. “Operators can reach a bigger market and get valuable information to better optimise their operations. Regulators gain new transport planning insights.”

Project Auckland: Auckland in the spotlight (NZ Herald)

2021 is shaping up to be a major year on the Auckland calendar, with major political, business, sporting and cultural events taking place.

The annual Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) will be held in Auckland for the first time in 22 years. Hosting Apec involves a 12-month period from December 2020 to November 2021, culminating in the leaders’ meeting where political leaders, their ministers of trade and foreign affairs, CEOs, youth leaders, business leaders and international media from 21 Asia-Pacific economies will descend on the City of Sails.

Apec was last held in Auckland in 1999, and saw US President Bill Clinton arrive to a ‘rock star’ welcome and also marked the first visit to New Zealand by a Head of State from China — then-President Jiang Zemin.

While in Auckland in 1999, the world’s two biggest powers — China and the United States — resumed talks during an hour-long meeting, after heightened tensions following the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

This time around will no doubt prove just as political, with President Donald Trump potentially in his second term in office, and the status of the relationship between the US, China, and Russia anyone’s guess.

Apec 2021 is being planned, organised and delivered by an All-of-Government Apec 2021 Programme, led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) in collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders and partners.

Mfat says Apec will be the biggest event ever hosted by the Government.

“With that comes an enormous amount of logistics and co-ordination that we are actively working on. We are working closely with a range of partners, including central and local government agencies, iwi, commercial partners and business interests to showcase New Zealand to the world,” says Andrea Smith, Mfat deputy secretary for Apec 2021.

Earlier the same year, Auckland will host its first America’s Cup in almost two decades, after Emirates Team New Zealand won the Cup in Bermuda in 2017.

Along with the defence of the oldest trophy in international sport, Auckland hopes to stage a successful event in March.

According to a report prepared for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment by Market Economics, the America’s Cup is expected to deliver between $600m-$1b in value-add to the New Zealand economy over the 2018-2021 period and an employment boost of between 4700 and 8300 jobs.

The race will showcase New Zealand on a global stage, forge new business links and be the catalyst behind the development of better waterfront infrastructure.

The previous America’s Cup regattas held in Auckland in 2000 and 2003 each generated around half a billion dollars of economic activity.

Auckland Tourism, Events & Economic Development (Ateed) says collaboration will be critical for both major events: “2021 will certainly be a bumper year with major events spread throughout the year and Auckland will be ready to welcome these events,” says Steve Armitage, General Manager Destination.

“A collaborative programme between the Auckland Council Group, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Mana Whenua and America’s Cup Event Ltd is already well established and working diligently to prepare for the 36th America’s Cup, while Ateed and Mfat have signed a Memorandum of Understanding and are working together with other government agencies to prepare for Apec 2021.”

Auckland will also host three other major sporting events in 2021: the Men’s Softball World Cup in July, the Women’s Rugby World Cup in July and August, and the Women’s Cricket World Cup in November.

The Te Matatini Kapa Haka performing arts festival is held every two years at different locations in New Zealand. In February 2021 it will also take place in Auckland, and is expected to draw in around 30,000 participants and spectators.

Says Armitage: “We see 2021 as a significant opportunity to advance the outcomes of the city’s destination strategy — Destination AKL2025 — which has an increased focus on destination management and sustainability that will add value for Aucklanders and our visitors.

“Over the past decade Auckland has built an enviable reputation for hosting a diverse range of global major events, showcasing the city, delivering an outstanding experience for visitors and leaving a favourable, lasting impression.”

New Zealand certainly left an impression on President Clinton. Before departing in 1999, he said: “This has been a magical trip.

“I think every person, when he or she is young, dreams of finding some enchanted place, of beautiful mountains and breathtaking coastline, clear lakes and amazing wildlife.

“Most people give up on it because they never get to New Zealand.”

Preparation under way

Auckland’s hotel market is expected to be in better shape in 2021 for the 36th America’s Cup compared to the 2000 or 2003 Cup defences in Auckland.

The city’s newest hotel, the five-star SO Sofitel, opened last month offering a volcanic theme throughout the hotel’s 130 rooms that range from $469 to $4500 a night.

Other hotels under way include the five-star Park Hyatt (195 rooms, opening 2019), SKYCITY Horizon (300 rooms, opening 2019), the Cordis extension (additional 250 rooms, opening 2020), Novotel (310 rooms, opening 2020).

But there are still concerns from some in the tourism industry that a shortage of hotel accommodation is likely.

Research from commercial real estate firm CBRE has found, based on the current pipeline of hotels planned or under construction, that there will be an additional 2200 rooms in the city by January 2021 — just before the scheduled America’s Cup race — on top of the current supply of 10,000 rooms.

But as international and domestic tourism markets continue to grow, hotel room demand will increase over the next three years. Even with the new builds taking place, demand will likely exceed supply by the time Team New Zealand set sail.

However, Peter Hamilton, director hotels, valuation and advisory services at CBRE New Zealand said other accommodation providers — such as private rooms through the likes of Airbnb — would ease accommodation pressures while the Cup is contested.

Over leaders’ week, Apec will see an estimated 10,000-13,500 attendees arrive. It is likely that the US, China and Russia will each take over entire hotels with officials, business delegations, and security.

With events spread throughout the year, Ateed is confident that the accommodation sector can meet demand during 2021.

“Apec Leaders’ Week takes place for a short time during the off-peak period in early November,” says Ateed’s GM Destination Steve Armitage. “There are a number of infrastructure projects underway to support Auckland’s growth and improve the visitor experience, many of which are in the CBD and waterfront area and will be complete or well advanced by 2021.

“An important legacy of the major events the city has successfully hosted is that we have significantly increased our capacity and capability. The city is better placed to ensure the success of 2021.

“The most important message is to plan ahead for Leaders’ Week. We are working closely with Mfat and our partners in the tourism and accommodation sector to help people do exactly that.”

What’s in it for business?

Tim McCready asks the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Andrea Smith why Apec 2021 matters for NZ business.

Mfat Deputy Secretary Andrea Smith is leading the All-of-Government planning and delivery for Apec 2021, working closely with local bodies including Auckland Tourism, Events & Economic Development (Ateed).

“Trade matters. One in every four New Zealanders in work today depends on exports for their livelihoods,” she says.

“The Asia-Pacific region is the fastest-growing economic region in the world and most of our two-way trade is with Apec economies. Apec is also the only international forum where we have the opportunity to host 21 leaders at the same time. In 2021 we have a huge opportunity to showcase New Zealand and Auckland to the world that only comes along once every 20 years.”

So what’s in this for business?

“Apec 2021 offers opportunities to connect New Zealand businesses with international visitors and help drive economic growth,” says Smith.

“We’re working with business to run a successful CEO Summit, to develop policy initiatives and theme, on leveraging and legacy activities, and on sponsorship.

“A range of businesses will also be involved in the event delivery itself by supplying goods and services. Overall, it’s a fantastic opportunity for New Zealand businesses, and a chance to tell the story to the world about who we are as a country and what we have to offer.

“At the Apec Leaders Meeting in Port Moresby last month, economies failed to reach consensus on their declaration, so business may be wondering about the future of such meetings. In these ‘turbulent times for trade,’ institutions like Apec — that have served us so well — are more important than ever to bring leaders together and discuss meaningfully their vision for the rules-based trading system.”

Infrastructure: Local funding for growth (NZ Herald)

Are restrictions on local government funding mechanisms stifling the ability of our cities to grow at their best?

When running for mayoralty in 2016, Phil Goff made the following commitment on rates:

“Rate rises will be kept low and affordable at an average of 2.5 per cent per annum or less, if current council fiscal projections are correct and the consumer price index stays low.”

The question of how much rates will rise — and the commitment to keep them as low as possible — are cornerstones of any recent Auckland mayoral bid. But there are concerns the current restrictions on local government’s funding mechanisms are stifling the ability of our cities to grow at their best.

Reliance on revenue from rates

In New Zealand, council revenue is largely separated from economic performance.

Local government is the core funder of transport and water services for new development, yet its revenue is derived from property rates — which are a cost allocation method linked to council costs, and not to the success of the economy or land prices.

Conversely, central government is the direct benefactor of growth: receiving increased GST, income tax and corporate tax when the economy grows.

Increased council costs mean an increase in rates, irrespective of economic performance, and any efforts made to charge ratepayers more to deliver additional services — including for those without homes who pay no rates — is consistently met with strong opposition from homeowners.

Councils see little funding benefit from growth, and as a result tend to have a culture of cost minimisation, heavily influencing their decision making at the expense of value creation.

“Importantly, from a local government economic development perspective, property taxes are not the best incentive to encourage councils to invest in infrastructure,” says Local Government Funding Agency chair Craig Stobo.

“If council revenue streams were tied to their performance, successful councils would accrue more revenue, providing more choices for their communities.”

This is not a new concern: a 2015 review into local government funding by Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) found that the heavy reliance on property taxes to fund local services and infrastructure fails to incentivise councils to invest for growth.

The only other major source of revenue local government currently has in its toolkit is to lobby central government: Shane Jones’ Provincial Growth Fund will see an investment boost in regional New Zealand, and the Housing Infrastructure Fund is aiding high growth councils to advance infrastructure projects that will help increase housing supply.

Yet the patience required for central government to fill the funding gap has seen growth issues turn chronic. Infrastructure New Zealand is concerned that private capital which could have filled the gap has been left searching for opportunities overseas.

Funding and finance inquiry

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta acknowledges the funding challenges faced by local government and the constraints of rate rises, noting they are rising faster than incomes and cannot be the only solution. She says that — if not met — the funding gap will have consequences for local communities and for the entire country.

“Local government is facing increasing costs for things like three waters, roading, housing, and tourism infrastructure as well as adapting to climate change,” she says.

And some of the councils facing the biggest cost increases also have shrinking rating bases.”

Last month the Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson, asked the Productivity Commission to conduct an inquiry into how to fund and finance local government.

The inquiry will investigate:

  • Cost and price escalation for services and investment, including whether this is a result of policy and/or regulatory settings
  • Current frameworks for capital expenditure decision making, including cost-benefit analysis, incentives and oversight of decision making
  • The ability of the current funding and financing model to deliver on community expectations and local authority obligations, now and into the future
  • Rates affordability now and into the future
  • Options for new funding and financing tools to serve demand for investment and service
  • Constitutional and regulatory issues that may underpin new project financing entities with broader funding powers, and
  • Whether changes are needed to regulatory arrangements overseeing local authority funding and financing.

Stobo says the terms of reference given to the Commission by Robertson are very good, and the requirement to consult with the sector is a helpful recognition of the expertise the sector can bring to the table.

“Prospectively this could lead to some devolution of tax setting and collection powers to local government, and a cessation of inefficient quota handouts from central government.

“The final results need to improve the incentives for councils to responsibly invest in local growth,” he says.

The New Zealand Initiative’s executive director, Dr Oliver Hartwich, is confident the Productivity Commission will produce good results.

“What is important for the Productivity Commission’s inquiry is to consider the incentives under which local government operates, and the Terms of Reference certainly allow that,” he says. “More specifically, it will allow the commission to consider the OECD’s recommendation to the New Zealand government that councils should participate in tax revenue increases resulting from economic growth.”

The commission’s final report is expected to be presented by November 2019.

Calling for localism

Coinciding with the announcement of an inquiry, LGNZ and The New Zealand Initiative launched their Localism project, calling for a shift in the way public decisions are made in New Zealand by seeking a commitment to localism. LGNZ President and Dunedin Mayor David Cull says it is important the new funding options incentivise growth.

“[The Localism Project] will highlight how the right incentives and funding can build strong local economies and vibrant communities. The urgent need to properly empower councils is reinforced by the fact that decentralised countries tend to have higher levels of prosperity than centralised ones.

“New Zealand is among the most centralised countries in the world.

“We should not expect central government in Wellington to be the best decision-maker for every local problem. Communities often know best what they need.”

The New Zealand Initiative’s Hartwich adds: “After more than a century of centralism, New Zealand needs to go local.

“Councils and communities must be able to make their own decisions about their future.”

A final report and publication of the Localism Proposal is expected in early 2020, and Hartwich notes there will be ample opportunity for the Localism report and the Productivity Commission inquiry to cross-fertilise.

Taking lessons from America

The city of Houston uses sales taxes to fund general activities.

Earlier this year, Infrastructure New Zealand led a delegation of NZ representatives to Portland, Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Houston — four US cities that are growing more affordably than Auckland — to consider how they are doing what they are doing, and what New Zealand can learn from them.

The report, Enabling City Growth: Lessons from the USA, provides detail on the lessons learnt from the visit, including the following on how local authorities are funded:

  • US cities have a number of funding mechanisms that are tied to their economic performance. Denver, Dallas, and Houston use sales taxes to fund general activities, and each has levied a 1 per cent sales tax to deliver improved public transport.
  • Dallas and Houston have property taxes with a strong link to property value. In each case, the revenue of the city and its component institutions increases with the success of the city in growing the economy and delivering homes.
  • Portland, the city with the greatest growth challenges, also has the fewest incentives to grow. There is no sales tax in Oregon, removing this option also for Portland.
  • Instead, Oregon relies on comparatively high income and corporate taxes, but has not extended the ability for Portland to levy these direct.
  • Property taxes in Portland have been tied to inflation since the early 1990s. Thus, property values have now become detached from property rates and the two are only reviewed when properties are significantly changed or redeveloped.

Infrastructure: Proposals that hold water (NZ Herald)

Suggestions for reform could impact on local councils, reports Tim McCready.

Figures released last month in a Ministry of Health report show one in five New Zealanders are drinking water from water supplies that don’t meet current drinking water standards.

The report shows larger suppliers — including Auckland’s Watercare, Wellington Water, and Dunedin — are meeting compliance standards throughout the year. But many smaller communities are failing to comply, including some of New Zealand’s most iconic tourism destinations: Coromandel, Whangamata, Waitomo Caves, Tekapo and Milford Sound.

In the 2016 outbreak of gastroenteritis in Havelock North, an estimated 5500 of the town’s 14,000 residents became ill with campylobacteriosis and 45 were hospitalised. It was ultimately traced to contamination of drinking water supplied by two bores — with sheep faeces being the likely source of the pathogen.

The Havelock North incident raised serious questions about the safety and security of New Zealand’s drinking water, and sparked a Government Inquiry into the outbreak.

The inquiry made 51 recommendations to improve drinking water safety — including that all water supplies should be treated, and that a dedicated drinking water regulator should be established.

Speaking at the Local Government New Zealand annual conference last month, Minister for Local Government Nanaia Mahuta said:

“The findings of the Havelock North Inquiry have been a sobering reminder of how, for the sake of our communities, we must make sure that drinking water services are high quality and safe. Too many areas across the country do not meet drinking water standards; in smaller areas, the level of compliance drops to less than 50 per cent.”

A shift to dedicated providers
Stage two of the Three Waters Review was launched in March, and is considering how to improve the management of drinking water, stormwater and wastewater.

New Zealand’s three water infrastructure and services are primarily owned and delivered by the 67 territorial (district and city councils) and unitary authorities, or council-owned and controlled water organisations (in the case of Watercare and Wellington Water).

Accountability for overall service performance is through the local government election process. In theory, if the public is unhappy with the performance of their council they will elect new councillors. But in reality, most members of the public do not have the information, capability, or desire to effectively monitor service outcomes. In many cases — including Havelock North — it is not until things go wrong that the public find out the extent of the problem.

The Havelock North inquiry recommended moving to a system of aggregated, dedicated water providers. A Three Waters public discussion document released by Internal Affairs asks what the options for a new model might look like:

  • Regional, publicly-owned water providers?
  • A small number of cross-regional, publicly-owned providers?
  • Something else?

Infrastructure New Zealand chief executive Stephen Selwood says scale really matters in the water business, because as well as enabling economies of scale, it provides the revenue base to maximise skills capability and capacity to govern, fund, oversee and operate water service delivery effectively.

“The value of scale and capability is already being clearly demonstrated by Watercare and Wellington Water who have between successfully implemented significant improvements in services in their regions that were not previously possible under local council management,” he says. “I favour a small number of providers, from one to to five. One provider like Scottish Water with independent regulation has proven very successful. With one provider you would look to benchmark performance with international comparators like the Australian states. Between three and five providers provides the opportunity to benchmark across NZ companies as well.”

Mahuta, who recently returned from a research trip to Scotland and Ireland to consider the models used there, says there are no pre-determined solutions, but a bottom line is continued public ownership of existing three waters infrastructure.

“Any option must ensure continued public ownership of existing infrastructure assets and we must provide the protections of that assurance through governance and ownership arrangements, at law and ministerial oversight,” she says.

Mahuta says it is critical the Government works closely with councils, iwi, and stakeholders with an interest in three waters services to develop options and recommendations.

How the overhaul will be paid for remains unclear, and Mahuta has acknowledged funding challenges: “Climate and population change alone mean that, even if we address the challenges in front of us now, significant funding pressures will continue to arise for decades to come.” Selwood says it should pay for itself, citing Scottish Water as an example:

“This publicly-owned national water service provider delivers drinking and wastewater services to five million people across an urban and rural hinterland comparable to NZ.

Since formation in 2002, Scottish Water has delivered substantial improvement in water quality, environmental performance and customer satisfaction, while reducing operating costs by 40 per cent and capital costs by 20 per cent on an enlarged capital investment programme.”

One of the main challenges with reform of the water sector will be the impact on local councils. For smaller councils, water is a significant component of their responsibilities.

Removing these raises questions about future viability.

Says Selwood: “I think this provides an opportunity to refocus councils from managing utilities and engineering challenges to being more focused on their communities, their people and giving true meaning to local engagement and participation by people in local affairs.”

Sector deficiencies

Successive reports over the past two decades undertaken by a diverse range of agencies and organisations (including the Office of the Auditor General, Water New Zealand, Engineering New Zealand, Infrastructure New Zealand, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and the Local Government Infrastructure Efficiency Expert Advisory Group) have pointed to serious deficiencies across the sector. Between them, these expert bodies have compiled a compelling case for change.

  • Major challenges include:
  • lack of information about the state of infrastructure assets — especially in small rural councils
  • lack of information or control of the cost of providing water infrastructure and services
  • excessive and inefficient water use
  • contamination of surface water and groundwater from uncontrolled or poorly managed storm water drainage and wastewater disposal — one in five wastewater treatment plants are operating on expired discharge consents
  • poor recreational and bathing water quality
  • lack of investment and deferred maintenance, in part through incomplete pricing or small ratepayer base, and political constraints to increases in local authority rates and charges
  • institutional and regulatory barriers to improved management
  • regular water supply shortages — especially during summer
  • high frequency of “boil water” notices
  • a backlog of investment in water infrastructure of up to $7 billion
  • infrastructure failure.

Infrastructure: Is New Zealand prepared for artificial intelligence on its roads and infrastructure? (NZ Herald)

The Herald spoke to industry leaders to understand the AI opportunities for New Zealand, and what it could mean for the future of our roads and infrastructure.

How prepared is NZ for artificial intelligence on its roads and other infrastructure?

Hikmet: Prepared? It’s already out there and has been for decades! Adaptive braking, parallel parking assistance, lane-keeping systems, driver fatigue sensors, adaptive traffic control systems. There is so much artificial intelligence already around you and not just on the roads.

Ensor: It is hard to prepare when there is so much uncertainty around what changes artificial intelligence will create. We need to wait before making bets on which emerging technologies will dominate.

Duggan: KPMG’s 2018 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index (AVRI) made some interesting headway in this regard, examining a cross-section of 20 countries in terms of their progress and capacity for adopting autonomous vehicle technology — New Zealand was deemed to be in the middle of the pack, in ninth place. The Index evaluated each country according to four pillars integral to a country’s capacity to adopt and integrate autonomous vehicles: Policy & Legislation, Technology & Innovation, Infrastructure and Consumer Acceptance. Advances in vehicle intelligence are happening at a far greater rate than advances in infrastructure; this is where our biggest current challenges lie.

There have been some recent scares involving autonomous vehicles – notably the Uber accident in Arizona that killed a pedestrian. Will momentum slow because of these concerns?

Hikmet: Autonomous vehicle developers and government need to work together to ensure that what’s happening is safe. If we see more of these deaths, public opinion can turn against autonomous vehicles – which would be a real shame. That isn’t to say autonomous vehicles are completely safe, but our current roads are far from it and we should be doing everything we can to reduce deaths. Autonomous vehicles are one way this number can be reduced.

Ensor: That was a tragic example of how today’s autonomous vehicles need to keep learning. It’s important that the hype around autonomous vehicles loses some momentum and we understand better what their capabilities will be and their limitations.

Edwards: The accidents involving autonomous vehicles have dampened enthusiasm among the public but people seem to have forgotten that many accidents occur when there is a human at the wheel. Throughout history there are examples where new technologies have ended in tragic circumstances — like the Hindenburg airship and the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. These incidents temporarily set back developments in their field, but long term, the lessons learned enabled the technologies to become safer and obstacles were overcome.

Reid: We still think of autonomous vehicles as something novel and new — however in the US, Alphabet-owned Waymo recently announced their test fleet has driven seven million miles. As with all exponential technologies people will be surprised at how quickly autonomous vehicles become part of our daily lives — and will quickly be demonstrated being as safe as a human driver — then very quickly far exceed the safety performance of human drivers.

What challenges does New Zealand’s roading (and other) infrastructure bring for the introduction of autonomous vehicles?

Hikmet: Many of the autonomous vehicles being built for the road are being trained and designed for driving on the right-hand side — it’s not a completely trivial task to convert them and will require intentional effort from developers to change them over. We also haven’t decided on a communication range for vehicular communication — we can either go with the Europe/US standard or the Japanese one.

Ensor: I hope the major manufacturers will train their autonomous vehicles to drive on the left. The most important thing is to make changes to help autonomous vehicles avoid making mistakes in challenging areas, particularly around roadworks and schools.

Edwards: People forget there are already many autonomous vehicles at work in airports, warehouses, ports and mining to name a few and these are playing a significant part in reducing health and safety risk. These are largely in confined areas rather than on the open road so the infrastructure is planned for this. It becomes exponentially more difficult on the open road system because the increase in variables is so dramatic.

Duggan: The consistency and quality of road markings and signage (or lack of) presents a very real challenge for today’s semi-autonomous vehicles, of which there are an increasing number of models on our roads. GPS accuracy and the next generation of wireless connectivity (5G) will also become increasingly critical considerations. In simple terms, AI is about the collection, processing and evaluation of data from multiple sources to ensure the highest quality of decision-making … autonomous vehicles will be fitted with more sensors than ever before, and infrastructure has a vital role to play in terms of data accuracy and processing speeds. Developments in autonomy and electrification have traditionally taken place in parallel, but their paths have now converged to the extent it’s now widely accepted there won’t be a fully autonomous vehicle that isn’t also electric, so charging infrastructure will have a key role to play by default.

What opportunities would the introduction of autonomous vehicles bring to New Zealand? How could their introduction influence future infrastructure?

Hikmet: The introduction of autonomous vehicles (not just autonomous cars) will allow many people to regain a sense of freedom and independence that they may have lost or never had. Autonomous vehicles also mean you won’t need to invest in close parking, you can instead turn that space into something more productive. I’m certain that the first urban generation who won’t need a driver’s licence has already been born in New Zealand.

Ensor: Autonomous vehicles give greater travel opportunities for people who currently rely on others to drive them or who use public transport. Demand for infrastructure may increase if this makes it easier to travel in a car by yourself.

Reid: The AI Forum’s recent report Artificial Intelligence – Shaping a Future New Zealand identifies a long list of AI applications which could benefit New Zealand across many sectors: agriculture, finance, tourism as well as the growing tech export sector. In the context of infrastructure, here are just a few ideas:

  • Health & Safety: using cameras, automated sensors to anticipate dangerous situations and respond. Also, automated robotics have the potential to do all the dirty, dangerous jobs involved in infrastructure — while being intelligently aware of maintaining human safety around them.
  • Process automation: throughout the whole process of contracts, design, earthmoving, construction, cable laying. Wherever there is a large amount of data, machine learning enables businesses to identify patterns, make better predictions and optimise processes.
  • Simplifying contracts: currently natural language AI is being used to better understand complex legal contracts and identify key clauses to focus on. Given the sums of money involved in infrastructure projects, this is a key tool for both parties to a contract to help ensure that hidden risks are reduced.
  • Monitoring project progress: using cameras and machine vision to automatically measure project progress. Christchurch GeoAI company Orbica are doing amazing work in this space using satellite imagery to identify how far building construction has progressed.

Personally, I reckon there’s an opportunity for autonomous “swarm bots” in the infrastructure sector — for example a swarm of little earth moving robots controlled by a “hive mind”could deliver all sorts of potential improvements for output, speed, precision, energy efficiency and safety. You heard it here first.

Duggan: Courtesy of features such as intelligent cruise control, steering support with ‘lane keeping’ technology and Autonomous Emergency Braking, the ‘semi-autonomous’ vehicles on our roads today have already begun to have a positive impact by reducing the frequency and severity of accidents. It’s no coincidence that autonomous vehicles have become increasingly topical at a time when in major cities around the world populations are outgrowing infrastructure, air quality is deteriorating, traffic accidents have become a global health issue and commute times continue to increase. Whether in London, Shanghai, Sydney or Auckland, fully autonomous vehicles are geared towards improving the productivity, sustainability, efficiency and safety of our daily commute.

Downstream, there’s no question that the advent of fully autonomous vehicles will influence social behaviour in relation to mobility, which will in turn influence the layout of our cities.

Is there an opportunity for New Zealand to propel itself to the forefront in this area?

Hikmet: New Zealand, particularly Christchurch, is pretty close to the forefront here. Christchurch International Airport’s autonomous vehicle trial is just about to wrap up, and they have ordered the first Ohmio LIFT which will be deployed there — making it one of the first airport autonomous vehicle deployments in the world. I know that some of the largest airports in the world are keenly observing and asking Christchurch Airport about their experience with autonomous vehicles. NZTA are also working with Christchurch City Council to operate parts of the Red Zone into an autonomous vehicle testing ground.

Ensor: With the amount of money being invested in research by major global companies, New Zealand needs to look our skills in “making things happen”. We could focus on removing specific technological barriers that vehicles will face driving in countries like New Zealand.

Edwards: I am concerned that the wheels of decision making turn too slowly here. NZ has some great minds working on AI development, robotics and so on, but in the technology world, you need an entrepreneurial mindset where you are allowed to experiment and sometimes fail in the interests of learning. In this country we tend to debate policy and regulation over months and sometimes years, by which time key opportunities can be lost. When it comes to infrastructure, our low tax base means that financial commitments to major infrastructure projects will be scrutinised and held up by competing priorities. New Zealanders (and the media) can be very intolerant of false starts and prototype failures, which is not conducive to experimentation and will hold this country back, particularly in the infrastructure space.

Reid: As a country our non-tech sector businesses need to think ahead more beyond next quarter’s profit numbers and start investing in long term data and technology-driven innovation. Our productivity remains pretty static and there are increasing signs that we are falling behind other OECD countries in terms of our economic competitiveness. While technology is not the only factor we will only reap the rewards of these new technologies if we invest in R&D and develop a deeper innovation capability throughout our business culture. Otherwise we will just be downstream consumers and price-takers from overseas tech firms.

Duggan: While New Zealand’s legal framework is relatively “autonomous vehicle friendly” and Kiwis are known for being early adopters of technology, the size of our market, our remote location relative to vehicle development and manufacturing facilities, our topography and low population density, and our current infrastructure are all barriers which will prevent New Zealand positioning itself at the forefront of autonomous vehicle testing and implementation. It’s critically important that we keep up in terms of investment in infrastructure — which will have far broader benefits than for autonomous vehicles alone — and there’s no question that the vehicle technology available to us is advancing at a greater rate than ever before, but I’m not convinced there’s a need for New Zealand to adopt a leadership position in this regard.

What other areas of artificial intelligence do you think will influence New Zealand’s infrastructure development?

Ensor: We need to look at how artificial intelligence can speed up the way we design, consent and construct infrastructure projects. Embedding artificial intelligence into these processes could shorten the time required to deliver large infrastructure projects by months or even years.

Hikmet: Machine learning and computer vision will help with analytics: counting pedestrians or telling you how busy a road is, how many vehicles are on it, and how fast they’re going. You can then use that generated data for analytics and predictive modelling. If urban planners and transport operators are more aware of what impact different decisions (be it infrastructure or policy) will have, they will make better choices to bring about the change that’s really needed for their specific communities.

Infrastructure: Chinese lessons for Kiwis (NZ Herald)

A capital injection will allow China’s ICBC bank to invest further in New Zealand infrastructure projects.

ICBC NZ recently received an additional US$60 million (NZ$88.08m) capital injection from the bank’s head office.

This new funding — approved by ICBC at a time where the global trade and investment environment has been subdued — is a strong signal of the bank’s commitment with New Zealand.

ICBC NZ’s chief executive, Karen Hou, says the additional capital will allow the bank to further invest in local infrastructure projects.

The bank has already invested across a range of industry sectors — including financing support to the banking syndication for Wellington’s Transmission Gully motorway, several key pieces of infrastructure in the Christchurch rebuild, and hopes to do more in the near future.

“Infrastructure continues to be ICBC’s main area of focus,” says Hou.

Selecting infrastructure partners

ICBC is present in 18 countries along the Belt and Road, loaning US$78.6 billion against 288 projects.

Hou says this gives the bank strong capability in global infrastructure, which the bank can leverage for New Zealand projects.

She suggested the Government could establish specific standards for global construction partners, to identify and select the best global companies, including Chinese firms, to bring experience and expertise into the country from across a range of infrastructure classes — bridges, railways, motorways, schools, power and water — along with capital.

“The use of Chinese companies can make the cost lower relative to others due to labour, scale, and the cost of materials,” says Hou.

“At the same time, Chinese technology, management and safety are world-leading.

“We should aim to bring the best from around the world to New Zealand — ICBC would like to assist to introduce and facilitate Chinese top players into the local market.”

The bank is now assisting a delegation of New Zealand Infrastructure companies that plan to visit China next year, in order to learn from China’s most advanced projects, central planning, execution and implementation methods.

“In order to deliver successful projects, it is important to select those companies that have significant global experience on major projects, as well as a good attitude towards
environmental protection,” says Hou.

Making projects more attractive
Though the opportunity for infrastructure investment in New Zealand is significant, Hou notes that the return on projects can be very low and spread over a very long project recovery period, which can make banks cautious about lending.

She says that Chinese companies are interested in the New Zealand market, but they are facing some difficulties here that means they cannot bring their comparative advantage here. These include:

1. Project overruns and delay.

2. It is difficult for some Chinese construction companies to succeed when bidding on tenders, because there is a local experience requirement when you bid.

3. Despite winning a tender, some Chinese companies have to subcontract to local builders, and are unable to take advantage of using their own staff due to a lack of policy support for filling labour shortages that could help rapidly advance infrastructure projects.

Hou says there are opportunities for the Government to help make local infrastructure projects more attractive.

“The Government may choose to partly invest alongside private companies,” she says.

“They could also introduce preferential policies that help support the infrastructure or provide a bottom line for future investment repayments.”

“If the project can be structured well and can balance reasonable returns and a mitigated risk, then it will become very attractive.”

Hou gives two examples of how the Government can help — the BOT public private partnership (PPP) model, and combing smaller infrastructure projects together.

BOT model

The BOT (build, operate, transfer) model is one of the most popular PPP models used in China for delivering major infrastructure projects.

Under the BOT model, the government uses the private sector to design, build and run an infrastructure project. After a period of time the asset is transferred back to the government.

This structure relies on the private sector, but the government supports the private sector to help with regulatory hurdles and ensuring the repayment of the investment makes the project worthwhile.

As an example, when establishing a subway: the cost is designed from the outset, including how to repay the investment. If there is not enough money to repay the investment through the subway alone, the government can help by using other developments associated with the subway — such as the related commercial areas — to go towards the repayment of the project.

This way, getting resources for infrastructure projects is easier because the risk of repayment is lowered.

Combining infrastructure projects
Hou notes that in New Zealand there are many significant infrastructure projects in development ranging in size.

“There is an infrastructure deficit in New Zealand that could be as high as $30 billion,” she says. “Individual projects might range between $200m and $3b, but if smaller projects are combined then it could significantly lower the overall cost.”

She says Chinese construction companies are unlikely to be attracted to New Zealand to undertake one small project.

“Generally, small projects will only attract the small companies, not the high-end companies. In order to attract the biggest and the best to come here, there needs to be a clear pipeline of large projects that will justify bringing people and equipment to this country.”

Wuqing: satellite city opportunities

ICBC NZ chief executive Karen Hou is keen for New Zealand to consider inter-city transportation links, such as the line between Beijing and Tianjin that has cut travel time from three hours to around 30 minutes.

“A satellite city provides many infrastructure projects,” she says. “Not only the transportation network between cities, but also development of areas around and along the transportation network.”

Hou says by combining these developments together, the project scale becomes much larger and is more attractive to some of the biggest and best global developers.

One example of this is Wuqing, a satellite city located 70km from Beijing. The Beijing-Tianjin high-speed rail service was introduced in 2008, and includes a one-minute stop in Wuqing.

Wuqing used to be a transport hub, carrying cargo to Beijing along the Grand Canal. But the rise in railway and roading meant until the high-speed rail service was introduced, opportunities in the city were limited.

Since then, Wuqing has been propelled into an important satellite city, attracting more than 8200 projects from Beijing over the past five years, totalling 51.6 billion renminbi, according to the district government.

The city is just 24 minutes from Beijing which makes commuting for work feasible, and it has opened the city up for significant new infrastructure development, offering far more affordable housing options than in Beijing or Tianjin.

Agribusiness: Innovation to feed the world (NZ Herald)

A ‘fourth industrial revolution’ is seeing the convergence of biological and technological solutions.

It is estimated that New Zealand’s agricultural sector can feed 40 million people. At a time where we are seeing an ever-increasing number of alternative meat products — such as the plant-based Impossible Burger that claims to “bleed, sear, and taste like meat” (and recently landed Air New Zealand in controversy) — there is an opportunity for New Zealand to export high-quality, high-value food with a focus on provenance to the world.

But as demand for high quality protein increases, the amount and variety of novel foods from culture, insects and plants will grow.

A recent Trans-Tasman Business Circle panel discussed the opportunities and implications emanating from the rapid transformation within the sector. The panel included KPMG’s Global Head of Agribusiness Ian Proudfoot, Fonterra’s Farmer Services Director Matt Bolger, and agribusiness start-up chief executives: Regen’s Bridgit Hawkins and Halter’s Craig Piggott.

Future of food

“We assume that people will eat like us in 20 years’ time,” says Proudfoot. “I can see a world where the only thing we can be certain about is that we will all need sustenance. It is not hard to imagine that sustenance may look incredibly different in terms of how we receive it during the week to how we receive it at the weekend.”

However, he doesn’t believe New Zealand should be setting out to be a commodity supplier to the likes of Impossible Foods.

“Everything we do and how we use our land has got to be focused on us being premium — the deli to the world — the place where people turn to when they want great food.

“There are plenty of people in the world who can afford to pay us for our 40 million people’s worth of food.”

In order to provide premium agricultural products to global consumers, farming systems in New Zealand will need to adapt.

“Regen’s science and insights are future-proofing the agricultural industry; we care about the future of food,” says Hawkins. “It’s going to require new ways of doing things and you need information to support those creating new farming production systems.”

It wasn’t that long ago that sheep were the backbone of the country. No one believed the day would come when jerseys wouldn’t be made from wool — and that day came quickly.

Wool struggled to compete with cotton and synthetics, leading to a decline in sheep numbers and wool prices. Export returns fell 36 per cent between 1985 and 2003, and the sheep industry struggled to recover from that.

Hawkins says this history has helped influence farmers’ psyche. “There is a real sense of ‘there is change, we’ve got to step forward and embrace it,’ as opposed to wait to have it happen to us,” she says.

Technology to boost production

This movement towards new farming systems and demand for new technologies and solutions provides New Zealand with an opportunity to use our deep agricultural knowledge to export more than just our food.

Proudfoot says this “fourth industrial revolution” is seeing the combination of biological and technological solutions for the first time — unlocking the biggest change ever in how we produce food.

It is this revolution that is seeing record levels of investment in the sector — total investment in 2017 reached US$1.5 billion.

Despite increased development in the sector, a major challenge is making those innovations attractive enough for farmers to adopt.

One of the major hurdles in implementing new technologies is that they can be capital intensive. Despite the solutions they provide — and the impact they may have on productivity, financial returns and the environment — the time to adopt them can be notoriously slow.

But this isn’t unique to agriculture. Hawkins uses electric cars to explain this hurdle in adoption: “How many of us have an electric car? Now that’s a technology we all know has some benefit for the environment, but it is expensive — and there are still some questions that remain around the batteries.

“It is a matter of waiting for someone to sort it out for us. One day, the person in our social group who is right into cars will get one. Then we’ll know any issues have been sorted out and we’ll get one. For us, we’re here to support farmers in what is a complex and uncertain time, there’s a greater focus on environmental sustainability now than at any other time in New Zealand’s history.”

For agriculture, ease of use is a further — and considerable — barrier. In today’s age of big data, it is easy to be consumed by noise. The convergence of multiple different technologies and the demands they put on farmers can lead to paralysis. Piggott says that in order to make technology adoption attractive to farmers, it must provide value in a very tangible way.

“We now have the technologies to make a dashboard that contains granular details on every aspect of the farm … but what does a farmer do with that information?,” he asks.

His start-up Halter — backed by a series of Silicon Valley VC’s, including Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund — uses cow collars that allow farmers to guide their herds around the farm, receive alerts when cows are showing signs of poor health or distress, and set virtual fences to keep cows from entering rivers and drains.

Hawkins’ Regen equips farmers with leading-edge technology to support their critical role in New Zealand’s economy. Their technology uses on-farm sensors and other data to provide farmers with daily recommendations around nitrogen application as well as water and effluent irrigation.

She says for Regen, they are at the start of the process and their work will continue to evolve, but the focus from the start has been on what the data means for the farmer, and what decisions they can make better because of it — not what the actual numbers are.

Although Regen collects millions of data points each day, its algorithms use that data to send the farmer a simple alert to say ‘this is what you should do today’.

Innovate for the world, not for Waikato

A recent report by Callaghan Innovation claims New Zealand is seen as one of four locations to watch for agritech solutions, alongside Silicon Valley, Boston, and Amsterdam.

Technologies including the Internet of Things, machine learning, robotics, and drones will help farmers predict pest resurgences, test soil samples, and improve efficiencies in livestock management — reducing and optimising the use of pesticides, fertilisers, animal feed and medication.

The government agency says New Zealand has a unique opportunity to capitalise on its reputation as one of the world’s four key agritech locations.

However, a major challenge for New Zealand agricultural innovation is that most of the world doesn’t farm like we do. Bolger says it is easy to get caught up in the farming systems used in our own backyard, innovating with them in mind — at the expense of capturing the global market.

“If we only seek to serve New Zealand customers, then we innovate for a system that is fairly unique and our potential is limited,” he says.

“If we spend 10 years developing something that works in the Waikato and then take it to Canterbury, it’s going to be really hard for virtually anywhere else in the world that isn’t like those two places. We need to ensure we think with our global customer base in mind.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t dismember our systems to find bits that can be taken offshore. The challenge is being smart so we take the right bits.”

Attracting talent

In order to reach our potential as a breeding ground for agricultural innovation, New Zealand needs to attract the right talent to the industry.

“This is a much bigger issue for the primary sector than just the technology space,” says Proudfoot.

“New Zealand needs to encourage data scientists to come and work with our great biologists — we need to bring data and algorithms together with the agricultural sector that will really enable us to make a difference.”

Piggott — who grew up on a dairy farm, has an engineering degree with first-class honours, and a year’s experience working at Rocket Lab — agrees: “There’s definitely an assumption that if you’re a world leading data scientist or an analytics engineer, you’re straight to Amazon, Google or Facebook. Going to work in a dairy shed is not necessarily top of the list.”

But Bolger says New Zealand’s history of agriculture gives us an advantage over other countries. We already associate science with the primary sector, which allows us to more easily attract top people into great careers in the industry.

“A lot of countries have moved away from agriculture,” he says.

“We have a large and successful agriculture sector that spans everything from the consumer back to the farm in lots of different forms and food products. It’s a sector where you can have a real impact: that’s exciting for millennials and centennials.”

Among the uncertainty of what the evolution of the sector will look like, one certainty is that the world will continue to need food.

If New Zealand can be a provider of premium food — along with innovative technologies to produce more of it — the security in that demand should provide us with a comfortable economic platform into the future.