PM's London visit not just 'pure nostalgia'

6:31 pm on 22 April 2018

By Stephen Jacobi*

Opinion - So, are we still doing Asia then?

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) arrives to attend The Queen's Dinner during The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), at Buckingham Palace in London on April 19, 2018.

Jacinda Ardern wearing a kahu huruhuru and her partner Clarke Gayford prior to attending the Queen's dinner during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at Buckingham Palace. Photo: AFP PHOTO / POOL / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS

Yes, of course, is the answer and hopefully we will see an Asian pivot from this government later in the year.

For now, if there is a monitor for homesickness among young kiwis living in damp flats in Earl's Court, the needle will be off the scale after the PM's appearance at the Topp Twins' show at the Hackney Empire. There is also something warm and familiar - like a constitutional cup of cocoa - in seeing the PM meet the Monarch. And then that symbolism of the appearance at the state dinner, and the kahu huruhuru - even this cynical correspondent was moved.

But it would be a mistake to see this trip as pure nostalgia. It had serious undertones, particularly given the geo-politics and the current challenges to the "rules-based-international-order".

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's sentimental journey to Paris, Berlin and London has helped re-affirm our traditional ties with enduring and important partners, as well as highlight shared values and likemindedness across a range of global issues. New Zealand pursues an independent foreign policy, but our interests are advanced when we have good friends at the table.

The London stop had both a bilateral and Commonwealth focus. Britain is formally leaving the European Union as soon as March 2019 and this brings new opportunities for New Zealand.

The announcements of a re-established British presence in the Pacific and a new effort to address the consequences of climate change in our neighbourhood are all very welcome signs of an expansion in the bilateral agenda (although that climate change conference should really be held in the Pacific not in the UK).

If "global Britain" is looking for free trade partners it will find a ready response from New Zealand but, as in any trade negotiation, there will be issues.

The transitional arrangements for sheepmeat - 50 percent of our global exports - which are currently guaranteed in the WTO are one, the future shape of Britain's regulatory regime is another.

A lot of work can be done in the next year to pave the way for a future FTA. Britain should take a close look at CER to see how regulatory coherence can work across integrated economies and at CPTPP to see how next generation issues like digital trade can be enhanced.

The prospect of a free trade agreement amongst the members of the Commonwealth is another intriguing prospect.

The Commonwealth's economic role has never been much to the fore and its membership contains countries of vastly different economic development. That said, if such an initiative could help us engage more easily with India, which has for years rebuffed our FTA interest, or to establish a new economic dialogue with African nations, which are slowly beginning to integrate, New Zealand can be expected to show a keen interest.

Ms Ardern is not the first to realise that New Zealand's abiding relationships in Europe require revitalisation.

The old trade battles of British entry into the EEC had at least one advantage of seeing regular political visits to Europe and the pattern has been picked up in more recent years. High level visits in the other direction are still something of a rarity. Hopefully this might change as both Britain and the EU re-discover the importance of this part of the world.

And what of Asia? Circumstances have driven the timing and venue of this year's Commonwealth meeting in London which was earlier due to be hosted in Vanuatu.

The Prime Minister has already had an Asian outing and has met a number of Asian Heads of State and government at APEC and the East Asian Summit. When the PM watches the next Topp Twins play to packed houses in Beijing, Tokyo and Jakarta, we'll know that we're getting somewhere.

* Stephen Jacobi, an immigrant from Britain, is executive director of the New Zealand International Business Forum.

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