COVID-19: How do key trading partners perceive NZ? China 'looks up to' us, while others see us as 'unprepared' - research

New research has revealed how New Zealand's key trading partners perceive the country now as opposed to 12 months ago, highlighting the shifting attitudes towards Aotearoa as the world reopens amid the ongoing pandemic.

The international research, released on Thursday by Government agency New Zealand Story, highlights important shifts in how key trading nations perceive New Zealand in 2021, compared to last year. 

Conducted by One Picture in August and September 2021, the research shows New Zealand continues to be perceived as progressive, inclusive and decisive by the majority of key international markets, including Australia, the US and China - a country that "looks up to" Aotearoa, according to the findings.

However, other markets - including Germany, Dubai and Japan - are forming perceptions that New Zealand is isolated, unprepared, unfamiliar, and closed off from the rest of the world.

New Zealand's borders are currently only open to citizens, permanent residents, diplomats or eligible travellers from the Pacific. Other travellers must have a critical and approved purpose to come to New Zealand.

This is in contrast to many other developed nations around the world, who have already reopened their borders to most fully vaccinated foreigners.

The research presents a huge opportunity for New Zealand to leverage the positive attributes its key trading partners see in the country, New Zealand Story CEO David Downs said on Thursday. The research found that international consumers still largely associate New Zealand with positive values, such as ingenuity, care and respect, as well as it being a place of community, fairness, and premium products.

However, local businesses will need to address the hard truths starting to emerge in select markets.

According to the research, these are the global shifts in perception towards New Zealand from 2020 to 2021: 

United Kingdom

For the UK, New Zealand's strengths have come into sharper focus than the distance of our location. As the UK looks to rebuild its own nation, there is a sense that New Zealand's smaller population size and isolated location have made it easier for the country to manage COVID-19 - however, the Government's approach has still stood out as more competent.


Australia had to deal with the resentment of its own loss of freedom, and so New Zealand has become more aspirational in its eyes. New Zealand has shifted from a place to visit, to a strong country Australia admires. As Australia struggles with its own leadership and COVID-19 response, its respect towards New Zealand, its people and its leadership has grown.

United States

As the US regains its confidence, Americans judge success against both protection of people and economic stimulation. The US admires New Zealand from the outside but questions the logistical challenges and economic uncertainties related to the closed borders. The US would prefer to see more pragmatism.


There is a subtle shift from outward to inward that may extend to those close by, but alienate those who are further away. Germany perceives New Zealand as beautiful and friendly, but closed off and still too isolated, with some questions over our COVID-19 response.


China's confidence in itself as a nation and its government is greater than ever, and they perceive New Zealand as a 'lesson' in social equality, inclusiveness and harmony. New Zealand is viewed as more socially progressive, safe and inclusive than Europe and the US. China looks up to New Zealand's social structure - it's one of the few western countries they are currently looking up to.


Japan's confidence in its own nation has been severely shaken. New Zealand is admired for its beauty and laid-back nature, but is also seen as behind the times in some ways. New Zealand needs to be more visible – Japan wants to see more from New Zealand than its scenery and negative lockdown connotations.


Dubai has great self-confidence in its place and COVID-19 status compared to the rest of the world. It perceives New Zealand as a self-contained oasis that needs to be louder and more integrated internationally. The pandemic has reinforced New Zealand's image as an isolated yet self-sufficient nation, but Dubai feels our COVID-19 approach is unsustainable in the long run. New Zealand's lack of visibility often pushes us to the back of the mind.


India perceives New Zealand as a highly desirable place, but often out of reach. While New Zealand displays qualities that make our products desirable, so do most other western countries. New Zealand's challenge is convincing India that we are worth the price premium.


Brazilians view New Zealand as a small but progressive nation that handled COVID-19 well. New Zealand's protection of its people drove admiration, and there is continued respect towards the Government for putting human lives before the economy.

"Being closed in a pre-vaccine world earned us respect," Downs said on Thursday. "However, with the world starting to re-open, vaccination rates and re-opening strategies are becoming the new measures of success.

"New Zealand's largest sectors... can leverage the evidence that the world cares about who we are, how we live, and how we treat others. We can see from this research that global perceptions continue to evolve and widen.

"To combat any negative perceptions, we need to highlight the positives of our COVID-19 response, and how that demonstrates the core values others admire in us; our care for people, and our willingness to make tough decisions to do the right thing."

Downs says the research highlights the importance of tailoring messages to international audiences to ensure New Zealand stands out as a trading partner - and when the time is right, we can welcome back tourists, traders and students with open arms. 

The research was based on 14 online consumer groups and 13 business interviews in the 10 markets.