After a four-year OE in China, Cameron Massie reckons young Kiwis play a key role in unlocking Asia.

As I sat in my final year at Lincoln University a frequent topic of discussion for industry leaders and lecturers was the dominance of China, and the challenges of doing business there. Yet I felt as though there was a disconnection between the potential, and real extended on-the-ground China experience in the New Zealand agribusiness industry.

This was when I changed my plan from a year playing rugby in the United Kingdom, to a move to Shanghai with the intentions of learning how to “do China better”– a daunting prospect for a sheep farmer from Dannevirke.

I vividly remember landing in Shanghai, walking out of the airport into a 45C wall of heat, failing to order a meal with sign language and realising that with no forks in sight my chopstick skills would have to rapidly develop.

Living in the vibrant country of China, unique experiences are frequent.

The language barrier is overcome with sign language and a few key words in the local language allowing for extremely efficient conversations. A few personal highlights of my time away included:

  • Playing rugby against the Chinese national team
  • Trying nearly every form of protein known to man
  • Visiting 25 of 32 provinces in China – it has amazing natural beauty and cultural diversity
  • Being the best man at two Chinese friends’ weddings – I stopped accepting invitations as after the third time, the next wedding has to be your own
  • Boating into North Korea
  • Learning Mandarin.

After nearly four years living and working in China I have recently returned to NZ. Spending extended time overseas definitely builds perspective of how good NZ is. It is a very Kiwi thing to venture abroad for working holidays, often in locations such as the UK, Canada, or United States.

Following my experience I would like to raise the idea of young Kiwis spending more time in Asian locations, and obviously with a lens towards China. Asia is home to six of our 10 of our largest trading partners, which emphasises the importance for the future of our agribusiness industry.

With such scale and speed of development, there is a variety of work opportunities for young Kiwis in the region. I was lucky to work in a number of diverse roles and had some amazing experiences including:

  • Working in a 8000-cow super dairy with its own consumer brand targeting a small portion of the 22 million population of Beijing two hours away
  • Living in Shanghai selling NZ ice cream in the food service channel across China
  • Living in the tier-two city Dalian, working for a major importer of NZ and Australian red meat.

The opportunities for young Kiwis in Asia are so diverse with the majority being agricultural nations but with small rapidly growing segments of wealth. Living and working in such locations has highs and lows, but overcoming the challenges will give you such a kick, and the confidence to cope in any situation.

After returning to NZ I feel really positive about the role of agribusiness in the future of NZ’s relationship with China.

Challenges for young NZ agriculturists to consider are: how can we capture more value from our limited supply of food products and how can we collaborate with China to mobilise their own resources to feed the masses. I believe young Kiwis play a key role in unlocking Asia, moving away from London with a less-than-traditional OE.