PM Jacinda Ardern heads into a world that has become more challenging, divisive and complex when she jets off to the World Economic Forum in Davos and a round of European calls. Rarely has a NZ PM been confronted by such a confusing global situation.
First, Europe is convulsed by two major challenges, the future of Brexit and the slow-down in the European economy which has given nationalists fresh ammunition.
Second, China and the US are inching towards an economic and strategic confrontation.
At home US President Donald Trump is facing incoming tides of confusion and uncertainty. The New York Times has put the focus on his five meetings with Russia’s Vladimir Putin of which no substantial record exists.
Now there is fresh dispute among his former and present advisers over the nature and scope of his contacts before, during and after the presidential election campaign in 2016.
Our New York correspondent has been in Washington DC to test the waters and reports a perplexing scene.
He says the partial government shutdown has started to tip the balance against Trump. In part this is because of the Democrats under Speaker Nancy Pelosi (think Helen Clark on steroids) has turned the closure into an existential challenge.
Buoyed by pro-wall talk-show pugilists including Rush Limbaugh, Trump holds fast to his call for a wall along the Mexican border to preserve the sanctity of the US state from the threatening hordes south of the border. No matter that the bulk of narcotics and potential terrorist threats enter through conventional entry ports.
Now such substantial commentators such as Jami Dimon, chairman and CEO of banker Chase Morgan, has warned of the consequences in terms of impact of the economy on the shutdown. This tears at the heart of Trump’s achievements.
The economy has been booming thanks in part to tax cuts (IRS tax assessors have been recalled to work unpaid to ensure taxpayers don’t miss their refunds.) Any slippage would be costly from Trump.
Already the farmer base is starting to suffer on two counts: first, tariffs and their impact on soya bean producers are biting; now the shutdown of the Department of Agriculture means that farmers cannot receive their income compensations.
On the broader scene, Ardern faces a delicate pas de deux in London with PM Theresa May. The UK government is desperate for runs on the board and anything like a great free trade agreement with NZ would boost morale.
This must be balanced against whatever impact this would have with NZ’s hard-fought battle to secure an FTA with the much larger European Union market. So does Ardern cosy up to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the hope he may soon be stepping into 10 Downing st?
Altogether a test for both NZ’s youthful PM, and her advisers…