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  • Our Words Matter

'Rules-based trading system’

Updated: May 27, 2019

Opinion written by Sarah Paterson, trade policy expert and Director at Blue Circle Consulting

New Zealand and Vietnam, as champions of the rules-based trading system, have to be more active and united in their efforts to defend it at a time when its survival is increasingly called into question, writes Sarah Paterson.

OPINION: The “international rules-based order” is probably not a term most New Zealanders use very often, if at all. In my time working on trade issues over the last decade and more, I haven’t heard more than a passing reference to its importance.

What it refers to is the set of globally agreed rules governing relations between states. It includes, with respect to trade for instance, World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules that have created a relatively stable and predictable basis for international trade for nearly three decades.

My take on why New Zealanders haven’t talked about it more deeply is that we haven’t really had to.

We have assumed our current framework of rules to be an unquestionable part of the global “furniture”. It has mostly served the international community well and enabled international trade to flourish. That includes contributing to lifting a billion people out of poverty over the last 25 years.

“New Zealand and Vietnam both have a lot to lose if the global rules-based system is eroded.”


Beginning at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade as an international lawyer, including a diplomatic posting to the New Zealand Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, Sarah went on to represent New Zealand in the human rights and social areas of the UN’s work. Having also worked for Fonterra, Sarah is now a trade policy expert and Director at Blue Circle Consulting. She also provides coaching to support improving leadership in business and the community, plus is a trustee of the Who Did You Help Today charitable trust.



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