15 Nov 2016

Quake shakes up Key's travel plans

6:54 am on 15 November 2016

Yesterday's severe earthquakes have put Prime Minister John Key's travel plans on hold.

Media conference in the bunker at Parliament. John Key speaks to media.

John Key still intends to be at APEC talks in Peru this weekend. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Mr Key was to leave today with a trade mission to Argentina, before travelling to Peru for APEC at the weekend.

The Buenos Aires leg has now been postponed, and Mr Key's attendance at the annual get-together of Asia-Pacific leaders is up in the air.

Mr Key said it was clear where his priorities lie.

"Earthquakes have a way of sapping confidence of individuals and you can understand that completely. I mean people are terrified of them.

"We just want to give them reassurance that we'll be putting everything into making sure we can put their lives back together again, as quickly as we can," Mr Key said.

The quakes came at the time when Donald Trump's election as United States president is sending its own economic shockwaves.

While Mr Key still intends going to APEC in Peru this weekend, Trade Minister Todd McClay will also definitely be there.

Mr McClay said the US's future position on trade was likely to be the talk of Lima.

"I think the US will show leadership in trade (under Trump), but it's going to be some many months before they're fully settled there and we get a good feel for what the next steps may be."

But New Zealand's Special Agricultural Trade Envoy, Mike Petersen, suggests APEC countries won't necessarily stand around waiting for the US.

He said China will present the results of a feasibility study this week into creating a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific, or FTAAP, covering all APEC's 21 members.

"With TPP appearing to fall off the table, all bets are off. And I think FTAAP will certainly get a lot more attention."

New Zealand has other irons in the fire.

That includes the Asia-focused Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, while it is also an observer to the Pacific Alliance, which is a regional integration initiative between Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.

While the government favoured TPP over others, Mr Peterson said trading nations like New Zealand needed to keep options open.

"We really can't afford to be out of any of these negotiations."

"I guess that's one of the big risks we always run, is that some of these talks get concluded and New Zealand's not at the table. And that really takes away our competitive position in those markets," Mr Petersen said.

Optimism over Trump's leadership on trade

Trade boosters are hopeful the incoming Trump administration will provide leadership on trade, rather than retreat behind barriers.

Mr Trump appears to have softened his protectionist rhetoric since the election.

Nevertheless, the chief executive of the International Business Forum, Stephen Jacobi, said businesses would be forcefully extolling the virtues of trade openness to politicians at APEC.

"Certainly the members of the APEC Business Advisory Council will be in dialogue with the APEC economic leaders themselves, and we will be saying that we do not want the ground to be ceded to protectionism and inward looking policies."

09082016. Photo Rebekah Parsons-King. Caucas run.Todd McClay.

Todd McClay said the US's future position on trade was likely to be a key talking point in Lima. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"On the contrary, we want steps to be taken to advance our economy, to advance openness for the benefits of our citizens," Mr Jacobi said.

Mr Jacobi also questions Mr Trump's commitment to FTAAP, given it has been driven by China, a country he has accused of currency manipulation and threatened to slap tariffs on.

But whether the current set of proposed free trade pacts will leave people better off remains vexed.

While Mr Trump tapped a vein of anger among Americans who felt left behind, TPP has faced staunch opposition in a number of countries.

If future free trade deals are to succeed, a new blueprint may be needed.

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  • Steady course predicted for NZ and US