CHOGM great chance for PM to be gone

9:38 am on 13 April 2018

Power Play - After a month of putting out political fires, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has surely been counting the days till her escape to the other side of the world.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrives in Samoa with her partner, Clarke Gayford,

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and partner Clarke Gayford on her previous overseas trip to the Pacific last month. Photo: Pool photo / Michael Craig / New Zealand Herald

Ms Ardern heads off on her first official trip to Europe today to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London.

On her way, she'll stop off in Australia at the Commonwealth Games, before a whistle-stop tour of France and Germany to meet their respective leaders.

The trip comes at a pivotal time in international relations - roughly one year ahead of the United Kingdom's final departure from the European Union.

Much of the focus then will be on trade.

New Zealand is ready to jump into bed with the EU as soon as the member states hit the green-light on negotiations.

Officials here hope that could come in the next few months and former Trade Minister Todd McClay understands a date is set for late May.

If that is the case, the success won't be down to these talks. The massaging has been going on for quite some time.

Indeed, in January last year, German chancellor Angela Merkel stood alongside then-Prime Minister Bill English and promised to press the EU toward a quick accord.

As for the UK, it's already signalled New Zealand will be one of the first cabs off the rank for a trade agreement.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the-then s Prime Minister Bill English in Berlin in  January last year.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the-then Prime Minister Bill English in Berlin in January last year. Photo: AFP

But official negotiations can't Bregin till Britain formally Brexits (sorry) in March next year.

At that point, the UK will go into a 21-month transition phase during which it can finally start negotiating deals.

Till then though, expect more warm platitudes and assurances over anything tangible.

CHOGM has always been regarded as one of the less-important global events - a bi-annual gab-fest between former British colonies.

Smart-alecks have sometimes translated the acronym as: Cheap Holiday on Government Money, but this year's meeting has added significance - it's the first since the Brexit vote and the first in London in more than three decades.

The changing global climate appears to have plumped up the guest list too.

Leaders from all but two of the 53 Commonwealth countries are to attend. In previous years, as many as half didn't turn up.

The event's theme is the deliciously vague "Towards a Common Future" and will feature discussions on climate change, trade and security.

Both Ms Ardern and Foreign Minister Winston Peters will use the opportunity to do the rounds and meet some new faces.

In reality, that will probably be the biggest benefit of the whole trip - simply strengthening relationships with major global players.

The photo opportunities too will be priceless for the Prime Minister. Her media team will be hanging out for that shot of her alongside the similarly-youthful Emmanuel Macron.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II leaves the church after the Royal Family's traditional Christmas Day service at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, Norfolk, eastern England, on December 25, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS

The Queen Photo: AFP

And don't forget the Queen. Never forget the Queen.

Ms Ardern will have several chances to meet Her Majesty including at a special reception at Buckingham Palace with all the new Commonwealth leaders.

It's the sort of PR opportunity most politicians dream of and is sure to help douse even the largest of fires back home.

Ms Ardern will be hoping that won't be necessary and her Ministers will be on the best behaviour during her absence.

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