Endless international travel is the lot of a foreign minister and Winston Peters has more than his quota this week and next. With Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern restricted by her family circumstances in carrying out her share of NZ’s representational duties, Peters has to step up his diplomatic programme as the itinerary for his mission to the northern hemisphere underlines.
He has a heavy schedule in four European capitals, which will then be followed by an equally intense progamme at the APEC forum in Port Moresby and other crucial meetings in Singapore.
There’s little doubt Peters is thriving in his diplomatic work and displaying remarkable stamina with the programme in Europe.
First, he is set to open NZ’s rehabilitated embassy in Stockholm, which Peters – in his first incarnation as Foreign Minister – had nominated as a priority. It was discarded by a successor for budgetary reasons which coincided with NZ’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, an effort which called for a heavy allocation of resources from the ministry.
Stockholm said maybe not to NZ’s bid, but Madrid said yes, so the embassy in Spain survived.
From Stockholm, Peters swings into Paris to represent NZ at the centennial commemoration of end of World War on November 11, which includes a grand banquet hosted by President Emanuel Macron. There might be views to be shared – Macron’s centrist party embarrassingly fell behind France’s ultra-right wing party in a recent opinion poll – and an oversight on how NZ is faring with an FTA with the European Union.
It will be a test of Peters’ skill (and charm) if he can get Macron to show more than his current lukewarm interest in how an EU-NZ trade pact can be shaped to mutual advantage, and speedily concluded.
Peters will also be keenly interested in how Paris views this week’s referendum in New Caledonia where the remainers won a modest victory.
Next, he moves to London and equally substantive business as Theresa May’s Conservative Government grapples with both the broad political sweep of Brexit and the vexatious minutiae which scupper the deal of Brexit. One of Peters’ key meetings is with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, with whom he will be pressing the case —- particularly if there is a hard Brexit that shuts down food import volumes from across the Channel — that NZ farmers can come to the rescue.
Peters will relish the opportunity to underline how important NZ can be in the post-Brexit rebalancing, and at the same time display the diplomatic finesse, which has made him a favourite with international figures like Condoleeza Rice in the Bush administration and Mike Pompeo in the Trump administration. Hunt has invited Peters as his guest at Twickenhma for the All Blacks encounter with England.
If this weren’t sufficient, Peters tops off the mission in Ireland where he is scheduled to meet the Irish Government and open NZ’s newest European embassy in Dublin.
Needless to say there has been a lineout length of former NZ politicians anxious to exercise their Emerald Isle associations but, true to form, Peters has preferred a professional, Brad Burgess, for the job. Burgess is well placed as Free Trade Agreement Lead Negotiator and TPP Deputy Chief Negotiator at MFAT. He has also previously been seconded to the Department of International Trade in the UK to work on FTA policy post-Brexit.
NOTE: We have corrected a reference to Macron’s centrist party being bested in European elections by France’s ultra-right wing party.