South America a week ago; this week it’s Washington DC. Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters is on the move again, displaying an indefatigable energy level beyond many of his Cabinet colleagues.
In the US capital this week, he will address a major international conference called by the US on questions of inter-faith issues and problems. He is expected to outline the government’s approach to inter-faith issues in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks which drew immense coverage in the US.
He will also deal with bilateral business in a session with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, now a familiar figure and very focussed on the Pacific. NZ has received the US request for assistance in patrolling the Straits of Hormuz in the Gulf to counter attacks on western tankers.
Possibly fortuitously, both the RNZN frigates are out of action while undergoing refits and upgrades in Canada. However, the RNZAF may be asked to provide an Orion and this would be familiar territory for the Orion squadron.
The question of a NZ-US free trade agreement will arise but the immediate prospects are limited given current US trade preoccupations with China, the EU and the revised US-Canada-Mexico agreement. At official level the US is keen to move once these major issues are resolved or put to one side. However, any agreement would need to pass through Congress and the Democrats, unusually, have turned against free trade.
Peters’ mission to the US follows his visit earlier this month to Chile and Peru, where he sought to strengthen ties with the Pacific Alliance countries.
In attending the Pacific Alliance Summit he believed it would reinforce NZ’s reputation as a reliable and pragmatic partner in the wider Latin American region. While in Santiago Peters met President Sebastián Piñera as well as Foreign Affairs Minister Teodoro Ribera and Agriculture Minister Antonio Walker.
At the Pacific Alliance Summit in Lima Peters met President Martín Vizcarra and held talks with Pacific Alliance counterparts from Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.
He says NZ is committed to the conclusion of a high quality, mutually beneficial free trade agreement with the Pacific Alliance.