PM Ardern touts New Zealand as 'safe haven' for investment

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand’s success in curbing the coronavirus has given it a “safe haven” advantage, allowing the country to be open for investment, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday.

With just two new infections this week, New Zealand has held down community spread of the virus after a strict lockdown brought social and economic activity to a standstill for more than a month.

Economic activity is slowly resuming, though many social curbs remain, and Ardern will decide next week on further easing.

“We are ready to welcome quality investments and offer a safe place for operations in both the health and business sense,” Ardern told a news conference.

“By tackling the virus we have positioned our economy to be able to rebuild ahead of many others globally...that is our safe haven strategic advantage.”

The comments came after Microsoft Corp MSFT.O announced plans to set up its first datacentre region in New Zealand.

Ardern welcomed the move, saying New Zealand was open to similar strategic investments, with her government making more efforts to spread the word.

“New Zealand’s brand has always been that we are a sound, high-quality and reliable place to invest,” she added. “I would like to think our response to this health crisis only further underpins that approach.”

Ardern has received praise globally for her leadership amid the pandemic, with news reports and social media spotlighting people’s desire to move to New Zealand while the rest of the world battles the virus.

But she faces the tough task of rebooting the $200-billion economy dependent on trade and tourism, with growth expected to slow significantly, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs.

New Zealand has always drawn ultra-rich investors keen to enjoy the Pacific island nation’s unspoilt environment and scenic landscape.

James Cameron, the Canadian director of “Avatar” and “Titanic”, has bought farmland near the capital, Wellington, while American tech billionaire Peter Thiel has snapped up several hundred acres of the South Island with views of snow-capped mountains.

But in 2018, Ardern’s government banned many foreigners from buying property, blaming overseas speculators for driving up housing prices.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open here in an external browser.)

Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Clarence Fernandez