From litigation to negotiation – Peters is back in pursuit of an FTA with the USA

After a trying week in court Foreign Minister Winston Peters will find some relief next week when he heads to Washington DC to take part in a security conference and continue his campaign for a free trade agreement with the US. The conference will focus on security issues in the Middle East and the containment of ISIS.

NZ has made considerable progress along the path to an FTA since Peters’ earlier visits and he will be aiming to consolidate the efforts by officials.  MFAT’s senior trade negotiator Vangelis Vitalis has been in the US capital this week.

Peters first raised the FTA almost a year ago and encouraging signs have continued to be shown by the US although its trade negotiators have been submerged in a high-level agenda ranging from China (in which a staged settlement will phase down tariffs, particularly those doing the most damage, for example on Chinese electronics imports) to the European Union and possibly the UK post-Brexit.

The US has made progress in the protracted battle over a revised FTA with Mexico and Canada.  While officials are close to agreement, the issue is still being battled in the Congress.  This week vice President Mike Pence has been touring states trying to convince sceptical Democrats who have shifted their ground on FTAs and are no longer as enthusiastic as in the days of Presidents Clinton and Obama.

When Prime Minister Jacinda Adern met President Donald Trump on the fringes of the UN General Assembly in September he displayed interest in an FTA with NZ. The US has been reassured NZ is pulling its weight in security interests in the region by the continued post on NZ Defence Force personnel.

But NZ will have to make its case based on economic prospects for either side. A NZ negotiator notes that should the Tiwai aluminium smelter close, then one element of contest, the US tariffs on NZ steel and aluminium, would be removed.

In another major step forward, Peters has fulfilled his promise to place career diplomats in NZ’s posts at ambassadorial and high commissioner level by appointing MFAT veteran Bede Corry to London to succeed Sir Jerry Mateparae in April.  Corry is currently deputy CEO and many consider him unlucky in not snaring the top job.

This leaves only Annette King, in Canberra, as a politician in a top posting.   Two other diplomatic plums, Washington DC and Ottawa, have career officers as heads of mission.

There had been a sense around Parliament that London would be filled by a former Cabinet minister or even – if we believe what some have told us – a retired prime minister.  At Point of Order we delicately refrain from citing names.

Corry has previously served as Deputy Secretary for Australia, Middle East, Africa and Europe, Ambassador to Thailand and at New Zealand missions in Washington and Canberra. He has also held the position of Deputy Secretary at the Ministry of Defence.

Peters says NZ is currently working with the United Kingdom to shape the future relationship post-Brexit and Corry is well qualified to lead this work. The High Commission in London is accredited to the Commonwealth Secretariat and other international agencies.


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