Foreign Minister Winston Peters has done the hard yards, trade officials and diplomats have put in long hours – but NZ won’t achieve a free trade agreement with the US until PM Jacinda Ardern sees President Donald Trump. That’s the way these things work.
New British PM Boris Johnson has already been on the phone to Trump and this week his new trade minister, Liz Truss, is heading to Washington DC, on much the same lines as Peters has pursued.
Trump says he is keen to do a deal with the Brits – in part to thumb the US nose at Europe and bring the UK closer into the US orbit.
Our contacts in the US capital believe that, at official level, all the signs are right to launch a US-NZ FTA round. Both parties want to dance.
Sure, there are sticking points such as Pharmac. These can be worked through just as the government rapidly sliced its way through the negotiations to secure the CPTPP. Further, Big Pharma in the US is taking a beating over opioids and its legendary lobbying powers with the Administration are not as strong as in earlier times.
Relations between NZ and the US have never been better. Most of the angst over the ANZUS break-up of 1985 has been set to one side.
The NZ Defence Force is closer than ever to its US equivalents. US forces (mainly Navy and Marines) are regularly exercising in NZ waters. The US has woken to the threat posed by China’s rapid penetration into the South Pacific.
But, it needs PM Ardern to exercise her widely admired charm on President Trump to set the ball rolling.
Helen Clark, as PM, swallowed much her antithesis to the US and managed a visit to White House. That’s a pretty good act to follow.