When my kids were young one of their favourite stories was Ernest and Celestine. It's a Belgian picture book and it tells the story of Ernest, a very big bear and his unlikely friendship with Celestine, a very little mouse.
In the book the mouse loses her favourite toy in the snow and the kindly big bear helps her find it. It's a touching story about loss and grief and love. A story about parent/child relationships and support. Which is unlikely because normally in the bear and mouse world, the big bears eat the little mice because their job is to steal bear cubs baby teeth when they fall out.
Big bears and little mice can be friends but only when the big bears allow it. But at the end of the day if the big bears decide to eat the little mice there's not a lot a mouse can do.
I thought of this story yesterday as I read about the possibility of a trade war between China and New Zealand. We're little mice who are being dragged into a fight between a whole lot of big bears who at the moment are our friends.
China is in the process of swamping the world in a deluge of cut price steel. Some of it is dodgy quality. It's taking the business away from steel manufacturers around the world including us and it's cost us millions replacing sub standard steel in road projects. Our steel manufacturers have confidentially asked the World Trade Organisation to investigate China's steel trade.
Somehow China's got wind of this, perhaps through cyber spying. Now they're threatening our dairy, wool, fruit and meat exporters with tariffs as revenge. Considering we were the first country in the world to get a free trade deal with China this is not playing nice. This bear is supposed this mouse's friend.
Meanwhile another bear, the United States has already put 450 per cent tariffs on some of China's steel in reaction to the dumping of Chinese steel and it's subsidies on it's market. They're also involved in some major level sabre rattling against China over access to the South China Sea. The 2 big bears are certainly not friends right now
To make things worse for us the American vice president Joe Biden is visiting us this week. To Chinese eyes we look like we're ganging up on them with the States.
So this week is going to be very challenging for our diplomats. We need to keep 2 very angry bears - the US and China - happy and pray that they don't feel like they should eat a mouse like New Zealand as an example.
You'd hope that China sees it's being a bully and changes it's way. But I doubt it. I fear we're about to get a lesson on how the world really works. And that's the problem when you're a mouse playing with bears. They hold all the cards and their teeth are very sharp.