Salam aleykum, good evening and warm greetings to you all.
Thank you to Dr Anwar Ghani, President of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, and all those involved in organising this wonderful evening.
New Zealand’s Muslim communities is a part of our social, economic and historical fabric and forms one of the many strands that make up New Zealand’s diverse identity.
The first Muslims recorded in New Zealand were Chinese gold diggers, in 1874. Today, the Muslim communities in New Zealand have come from all over the world, and many generations have been born here.
In the last Census, in 2006, nearly 36,000 people indicated an affiliation to Islam – a 50 percent increase in the five years since the previous Census.
New Zealand’s Muslim population, however, represents a small number of the world’s Muslim population.
Worldwide, there are an estimated 1.57 billion Muslims of all ages. The majority of this population – 62 percent – is located in the Asia-Pacific region.
A recent study showed that the world’s Muslim population is growing substantially, and that worldwide there is a youthful, emerging Muslim middle?class.
In November last year, I spoke at the opening of the 14th General Assembly of the Regional Islamic Da’wah Council for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
At that meeting, I spoke about the emergence of the halal industry and growing demand from Muslim consumers for quality halal products.
The halal industry is also recognised by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, as an emerging global trend that holds great promise for New Zealand’s food and beverage, cosmetics and beauty products.
FIANZ has worked for a number of years to promote New Zealand products to countries in the Gulf and Southeast Asia. Through its accreditation process, FIANZ ensures that New Zealand’s exports meet the halal standards called for by Muslim consumers. New Zealand is one of the world’s largest exporters of halal dairy products and meat.
One of my priorities is to maximise the talents, skills and connections of our ethnic communities to grow New Zealand’s economy.
For a small country like ours, building a prosperous economy that all New Zealanders enjoy takes a lot of hard work, determination and ingenuity. It involves thinking outside the box and forming relationships with others.
New Zealand has trade relationships with many countries. Our economic focus is on Asia, which contains the two largest economies in the world today.
Recently, New Zealand signed a free trade agreement with Malaysia – a country that has 28 million people, and with which trade is worth almost $3 billion. This agreement will ensure efficient and easy trade in goods and services between our countries.
Other agreements have been signed with ASEAN, Singapore, Thailand and China. New Zealand is currently in negotiations with India.
New Zealand has recently concluded negotiations with the Gulf Cooperation Council, which contains Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. This group ranks as our seventh largest trading partner. The agreement with the GCC will provide New Zealand access to some of our most important Middle Eastern markets.
But as well as the economic relationships and the importance of these for a prosperous country – the social connections are just as important.
Building a prosperous economy requires a socially harmonious foundation. In a country that is as diverse as New Zealand, social harmony is crucial.
Another priority for me, therefore, is to support our multi-faith and multi-ethnic society, and maintain social harmony.
New Zealand’s diversity is a part of its identity as a nation. Some may describe us as a peaceful country with no conflict – in fact New Zealand was voted the most peaceful nation in the world last year.
But we cannot take this for granted. While often held up as a model for social harmony, New Zealand does have its challenges and detractors. But we work hard to meet those challenges, and to counter the detractors.
At the local level, organisations such as FIANZ work to ensure communities are able to fully participate in New Zealand life. The Office of Ethnic Affairs works to build a confident, equal and proud ethnic sector. Today’s Forum is evidence of that work.
At the international level, New Zealand participates in initiatives such as the Alliance of Civilisations, which aims to improve understanding between nations and peoples across cultures and religions. The Alliance of Civilisations helps to counter the forces that fuel polarisation and extremism.
And within our Asia-Pacific region, last year I led a delegation that included Dr Ghani, to the Asia-Pacific Interfaith Dialogue in Perth. This Dialogue was an opportunity to progress interfaith understanding within the region, and to continue engaging with our diverse communities.
In today’s world, relationships between nations, peoples and cultures are important. This evening’s Forum is about harnessing those relationships.
This Forum’s objectives are to
- highlight the existing contribution that trade with the Muslim states is making to the economy of NewZealand;
- discuss how to make the most of the trade agreements that are in place; and
- identify how these trade relationships can be enhanced.
This evening you will hear a number of speakers whose wealth of experience and knowledge will provide some interesting points of discussion.
I wish you all a successful and fulfilling evening.