New Zealand now has one of the world's least regulated economies
New Zealand consists of two main islands. The larger, South Island, is also the more mountainous, dominated by the snow-capped Southern Alps which run down its western half. In North Island the mountains are on the eastern side and are somewhat lower. Parts of New Zealand are of volcanic origin and there are a number of hot springs and geysers.
Three-quarters of the population live in the North Island. Most are of European, and particularly British, extraction—the product of more than a century of immigration that gave preference to ‘traditional source countries’, a policy that ended officially only in 1986. New Zealand has also been a country of net emigration, primarily to Australia. Worried about this brain drain, the government has made greater efforts to attract skilled immigrants and investors. This has increased immigration, primarily from Asia, and created a political reaction.
The earlier arrivals came around the 14th century. These are the Maori who are now a minority, almost all of whom live on the North Island. ‘Maori’ is Maori for ‘normal people’, to distinguish themselves from the whites, the ‘Pakeha’. The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, ‘land of the long white cloud’. For a hundred years, the Maori were bitter that the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi that had guaranteed their land rights had not been honoured. They got some recognition in 1994 and 1995 in the form of compensation treaties with the government—and a formal apology from the British queen Elizabeth II.
The third largest group of New Zealanders come from various Polynesian islands, many of whom arrived from the 1960s onwards to meet the demand for unskilled labour.
Agriculture still employs around 10% of the population. New Zealand's soil is not particularly fertile, but the temperate climate and its grassy hills and meadows sheltered by the mountains make it ideal for pastoral farming. The vast sheep herd, the fourth largest in the world, enables New Zealand to be one of the world's leading producers of lamb, mutton, and wool. It also exports beef and dairy products. The main arable crop is barley for animal feed. Other crops include kiwifruit and apples for export, along with the grapes that have enabled New Zealand to become a leading wine producer.
Manufacturing industry is dominated by the processing of meat and dairy products for export, but New Zealand is now also a major producer of pulp and paper.
New Zealand poses as Middle Earth
New Zealand has the service industries common to most industrial countries. But its tourist industry is increasingly important. More than two million visitors come each year to see the country's attractive scenery—some of which posed as ‘Middle Earth’ in the movie trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.
New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy, headed by the British queen. Because the population is of overwhelmingly British origin there seems to be little pressure to become a republic.
Until the mid-1980s, New Zealand had a highly regulated welfare state. This changed dramatically from 1984 following an electoral victory by the Labour Party which embarked on a radical programme of economic liberalization, removing agricultural subsidies and import controls, and in its next term from 1987 privatizing many public enterprises.