Ardern in US to boost exports, lure tourists

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in New York at the start of the US trade mission. Photo: Pool /...
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in New York at the start of the US trade mission. Photo: Pool / Christian Carroll
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has begun a bid to boost exports and lure more tourists, with a packed schedule in the United States as New Zealand looks to fully reopen its border after more than two years of Covid-19 restrictions.

Her trip is to include meeting members of congress and the United Nations Secretary-General, attending a launch event for sustainable meat exports, delivering the Harvard Commencement speech in Boston, meeting with California governor Gavin Newsom, and meeting with executives of tech giants like Twitter and Microsoft.

With US President Joe Biden in Japan, and Ardern having only just recovered from Covid,  a hoped-for meeting remains up in the air, but there is optimism from the New Zealand side that it will happen.

Ardern's first event was a sit down with major American tourism media in New York, as part of the drive to show the US market New Zealand is "open for business", and then representatives of US multinational investment management firm BlackRock.

She said the message of New Zealand being open for business and travel is really important at this time and she was travelling with a business delegation doing as much as possible to open doors on their behalf.

"Our high level meeting with BlackRock enabled our business delegation to sit face-to-face with a number of influential individuals in their investor sector from the United States. A really thoughtful, interesting discussion and dialogue which all of our business representatives had the chance to participate in."

Ardern said the dominant issue discussed was sustainability.

The Prime Minister also had a one-on-one with the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, where Ukraine was top of the agenda.

She was keen to hear his perspective on the war in Ukraine and to offer New Zealand's support in the ongoing diplomatic work.

It was a chance to "discuss everything from the conflict in Ukraine to climate change and more broadly, the role that New Zealand can play in UN reform which we've long been an advocate and supporter of".

"A really fruitful discussion but really useful to hear the secretary general's reflections on the current conflict."

Ardern said predominately the focus was on issues of climate sustainability and the war on Ukraine.

"Any reflection on the relationship between China and the United States whilst ultimately that is a matter for them, what we will continue to advocate is for peace and stability in our region, including any discussions around increasing tensions around Taiwan."

Ardern said they would continue to be strong advocates of the US using the trans-Pacific partnership CPTPP as its port of call for a meaningful trade option.

"They have proposed an alternate framework, our mission as a country needs to be to keep our aspirations high but also work with what's on the table."

"Ultimately the CPTPP is an existing framework that offers a significant amount from New Zealand's perspective. However we will also engage with what's currently on the table."

Having an independent foreign policy meant New Zealand has been very consistent in maintaining its values of peace, stability, the use of dialogue and the importance of multilateral institutions like the United Nations as an honest broker in difficult situations, she said.

"There is tension in our region, we have our various periods of time seen escalation in language, we will constantly call, on New Zealand's behalf and ours, on peace and stability in our region."

The Chinese foreign minister is doing a tour of a number of Pacific nations and Ardern was not surprised by this.

"It's not necessarily just presence, it's the nature of that presence and the intention around it. From our perspective within our region, we're very firm that yes, of course, we want collaboration in areas where we have shared concern, issues like climate adaptation and mitigation, we want quality investment and infrastructure in our region, we don't want militarisation, we don't want an escalation of tension.

"We want peace and stability so we will remain firm in our values."

The question will continue to be whether some of those engagements are necessary, she said.

Ardern's day in New York will be rounded off with a repeat appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Just before departing New Zealand, she virtually attended the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, an alliance of 13 countries including New Zealand that proposes joint efforts on climate change and digital issues but is widely considered a US attempt to limit China's economic influence.

The IPEF also includes the members of "the Quad" - the US, Australia, India and Japan - who have been meeting in Tokyo, along with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

Together, the grouping represents 40 percent of the world's GDP.

Bilateral trade between the US and New Zealand was worth about $18.5 billion in 2021, with annual growth averaging 5% over the past 15 years, official data showed.

US travellers were New Zealand's third-largest tourism market, forming 10% of total arrivals before the emergence of Covid-19.

New Zealand's closure of its border to non-citizens in March 2020 helped keep Covid numbers relatively low. Ardern said earlier this month that New Zealand would fully reopen its border from the end of July this year. 

- additional reporting by Reuters 

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