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Trading our way : developments in New Zealand's trade policy 1930s to 1980s : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in History, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
This thesis examines developments in New Zealand trade policy from the 1930s to
late 1980s. Over this period New Zealand’s trade activities changed from being very
narrow in scope and highly controlled, to being greatly diversified and liberalised.
This thesis investigates successive New Zealand governments’ ideas about how
external trade should be developed over that period, and why they instigated
substantial changes in the nature of trade policy. The research identifies the
dominant ideas, and influences, that shaped those changes.
Because trade has been so central to the New Zealand economy, this thesis holds that
ideas about trade development have been intrinsically linked to more general
economic, political and social objectives for the country.
This research has been built on an understanding that trade policy over this time had
many dimensions that were located in both the domestic and foreign policy realms. In
domestic terms, trade policy was focused on achieving economic and industrial
development objectives. From these perspectives, trade policy was developed in ways
that sought to ensure security and opportunity for the domestic economy and for
New Zealand society. The substantial changes from regulated trade to liberal trading
within the domestic context can be viewed in relation to the story of import
licensing’s existence. The growth of diversity of goods traded can be viewed in terms
of the changes in domestic production priorities.
In the realm of foreign policy, diplomatic pursuits focused on pursuing New Zealand’s
national interest through trade development. Trade policy was focused on achieving
access for markets through political means, and advancing New Zealand’s interests in
the economic and political international arenas. From this perspective, trade policy
informed diplomatic strategies that sought to enhance New Zealand’s ‘place in the
The research highlights the challenges for New Zealand of pursuing external trade to
meet its own objectives while operating within economic and political contexts over
which it had little influence. Most ideas and policy decisions made over the period can
be viewed as stemming from some form of external influence. Trade policy tended to
develop in response to external changes rather than through independent initiative.