By Don Christie
Let's hope the recent signing of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) doesn't give the multinational Goliaths of the IT world a massive advantage over Kiwi Davids.
You'd like to think that New Zealand's keenness around free trade will usher in a brave new world for our innovative IT companies.
I'm not going to hold my breath.
I'd like to think that the Trade Minister Tim Groser hasn't given away whatever slight IT advantage we might have in playing at home, in order to secure some minor better away deal for agriculture. But having observed such agreements over the years and having spoken to numerous well-intended trade officials, I'm not that confident.
Because the one thing that any local company needs is easy access to local clients with whom you can develop new products and opportunities. The biggest local client in NZ is, of course, our government.
The trouble is New Zealand's so tight about adhering to the rules that are set for the rest of the world, our officials bend over backwards to ensure that no New Zealand business gets an edge.
I see and hear this repeatedly when talking to top officials in government agencies. They will, for example, insist that the local offices of the like of IBM, Microsoft and HP are no different from NZ owned and operated companies.
The same officials also insist they can't discriminate on cloud service offerings between foreign and local companies, or even understand the rationale that New Zealand's government data should remain sovereign to and within New Zealand.
Every other country seems to recognise that the rules around new industries and sectors should favour the home team(s) in order to diversify the economy and encourage a strong culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. But in opening up everything to the world, New Zealand businesses get slammed.
Note to government: our agile companies need space in which to be creative.
Trade deals such as the TPP do the opposite to creating this space – enabling the big monolithic IT dinosaurs to leverage their money and power, and crowd out and exclude the local companies who can provide smart solutions at a fraction of the price demanded by the Goliaths of the IT world.
Further note to government: without a home base on which to develop and prove new products, there is no way you can even attempt to sell the same solutions overseas.
One of the biggest ironies of what unfortunately has been a very secret debate, is hearing the likes of Business New Zealand saying that it's up to Kiwiw businesses to now take advantage of such trade agreements. Without the resources or funding that foreign multinationals have, so how exactly are we supposed to take advantage? The reality is they can simply come over to our patch and take us out, playing by rules our government has created, that effectively provide us with a home disadvantage.