Thank heavens for the Pacific! PM Jacinda Ardern is off again, radiating good cheer and best wishes on her colleagues to the north.
She is headed for Tuvalu for the 50th Pacific Islands Forum, where climate change is expected to dominate discussions.
But this makes a change from her otherwise tedious round of foreign engagements.
Check: a wonderful ‘phone call with Boris Johnson, Britain’s most recent prime minister, promising priority for an NZ-UK free trade agreement.
Problem: US National Security Adviser John Bolton had just left the room promising Boris the UK would be “first off the rank” in a cracking US-UK free trade agreement, managed perhaps sector by sector (don’t mind World Trade Organisation strictures on such processes).
Then there is the prospect of what sort of tension might arise when the UK’s chief trade negotiator, New Zealander Crawford Falconer, has to grapple with the details.
Wellington – London, which comes first? Who pays the bills?
Check: The US and its muscle. Foreign Minister Winston Peters has done his best to secure a congenial trading environment heading into an FTA round.
Problem: NZ still has steel and aluminium tariffs applied by Trump. NZ “understands” these may or will be addressed as soon as the US clears other vexatious trading issues from the desk in the Oval Office – Canada, Mexico, China, the EU for starters.
Check: Australia – it’s all sweetness and light with Canberra.
Problem: But sweetness and light have done nothing to halt the increasingly vigorous despatch of NZ residents with criminal convictions. Mind you, President Trump has put the hard word on Australia to step up and offer material assistance to its proposed force to patrol the Straits of Hormuz protecting Western oil tankers. Like NZ, Australia might be short of a warship or two and offer instead maritime planning and control experts to integrate with US forces.
Check: The placid waters of the Pacific will be a haven …
Problem: Except that NZ can’t provide enough largesse to match China’s. Beijing’s latest gem is an offer to “assist” Papua New Guinea manage its $A11bn debts. Australia is bearing the brunt of complaints on climate-changing coal burning power stations.
Australian PM Scott Morrison has pledged $A500m to help Pacific nations cope with “climate and disaster resilience” over the next five years, but the money will be redirected from existing aid programs rather than being additional support.
Ukuleles to the fore, NZ can celebrate, though Fiji PM Frank Bainimarama has returned to the Pacific Forum fold with gusto, even joking he couldn’t remember whether he left the Forum or the Forum left him.