Why a Biden presidency could be 'reason for concern' for New Zealand agricultural exporters

Despite a Joe Biden presidency boding well "overall" for New Zealand exporters, some of his policies could be "reason for concern" for our agricultural trade, says a professor of law.

Waikato University's Professor Alexander Gillespie says it's likely that Biden will take a much more multilateral approach to trade compared to current President Donald Trump. However, while this could benefit New Zealand, there could also be some downsides to his administration.

The main issue that may impact New Zealand agriculture exporters is his focus on climate change.

"Biden has expressed interest in having what we call carbon tariffs and ways to restrict trade if a product has a large greenhouse footprint," Dr Gillespie told Dominic George on Magic Talk's Rural Today on Tuesday.

"Although that sounds good in theory, for a country like New Zealand which has a lot of methane-rich exports and agriculture that could be a cause for concern. We don't know how that's going to play out but [we need to] just keep it on the horizon that it's something we might have to keep watching."

Dr Gillespie said the whole idea of carbon tariffs was complicated.

"In a big global theoretical world it may sound like a good idea but on a practical basis when you're talking about a country that is so dependent on our exports - which are in agriculture - it could become a barrier to us quite quickly. 

"How it will play out we don't know. All we know is that Biden has signalled his willingness to look at this."

The result could be that although Biden is more interested in building trade relationships than his predecessor, "he's looking at trade in a way which we have not seen before".

"Because he's so concerned about climate change this could be one of the tools that he utilises. So if you sing with the angels it's really good, but if you sing on the other side of the ledger you could say he could be doing it to protect his own industries," said Dr Gillespie.

He said rather than overly depending on trade with the US, a better approach for New Zealand is to keep doing what it currently is and "create new agreements where climate change is part of the trade deal".

"So it would be much more comprehensive and multilateral at the outset rather than just one country saying 'we don't like your products because it's got a large greenhouse footprint'."

Another potential complication for New Zealand was the fact Biden was likely to be "more hawkish on China than Trump", said Dr Gillespie.

"This means he's more likely to speak up about things like human rights" and issues like Hong Kong, he said.

"When Australia followed Trump on this they received a very strong slap from China, and they're currently going through some pretty nasty disputes with China over trade access. And so if Biden moves to a more hawkish position and New Zealand follows that we'll have to be careful."

Dr Gillespie said although there was a chance Biden might consider negotiating a place for the US in the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement he was likely to be "quite sceptical of free trade".

'I think part of the problem is that Biden's looked at Trump's success and he can see that the average American is quite sceptical of free trade now. Although Biden will want rules and will work down that road, I don't think he'll go as far as many Kiwis would like him to go.

"I wouldn't hold your breath for a free trade agreement."