Last week New Zealand's wonderful Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern and a team of trade officials and delegates were in Japan for the first time since the pandemic broke out. It was the first official government trip outside of New Zealand since the borders have slowly started reopening.
Japan is an important diplomatic partner for New Zealand. Japan is New Zealand's 4th largest trading partner after China, Australia and the US. We have a reciprocal Working Holiday Visa arrangement between our countries.
Obviously trade between our two countries was a big topic of discussion. New Zealand sends dairy products, vegetables, wood, fish and seafood to Japan.
The news reports were brief but there seemed to be a big emphasis on F&B - food and beverage. Yaye, I am all about New Zealand food.
New Zealand Wool
But I did not see New Zealand wool mentioned in any of the news reports. This is worrying. New Zealand is a land of sheep. Ask anyone what they know about New Zealand and they will inevitably say Sheep, Kiwifruit and Rugby.
The Zespri Kiwi Brothers (human mascots) were in attendance at the New Zealand Embassy while Jacinda was there. (Am I mean for laughing about the Twitter response to the sad music and dance? one person said it looked like the Kiwi Brothers had gatecrashed a Japanese funeral).
Jacinda also met with the people who have an initiative to send female rugby players to New Zealand. That is awesome! BUT ...
Where were the sheep?
Although sheep are not endemic to New Zealand they have been there long enough that we New Zealanders consider them to be a part of our culture. It's commonly said that New Zealand's economy was built off the back of sheep. The struggle is how to make sheep relevant to people outside of New Zealand (again)? Are people in Japan making the connection to wool? Maybe not. Even from the perspective of meat eaters, lamb is not a commonly consumed meat here in Japan. It's niche and luxury.
I don't want to imagine a world where we do not have sheep in New Zealand but the figures suggest that the (wool) industry is in decline.
We're only one small company here at North South Stewart but we are passionate about New Zealand wool. I know that Jacinda had a lot to talk about at the trade meetings, New Zealand makes so much great stuff. But I want to see New Zealand wool making headlines next time Jacinda comes to Japan. Help me make it happen!
I will be a self-appointed Ambassador for sheep and wool in Japan. Who will support me? How can we make that happen? No I will not dress up in a sheep mascot costume. Or will I? Will it come to that?