PM Jacinda Ardern is planning a major visit to Europe next month. Details have yet to be announced but she is expected to visit Paris, Brussels and possibly Berlin.
She is heading NZ’s campaign to secure a free trade agreement with the European Union. First visit is likely to be Paris where she will have a warm welcome from President Emmanuel Macron. This couldn’t come at a more appropriate time.
The French are feeling bruised over the Australia-UK-US nuclear submarine agreement and the cancellation of the $80 billion contract to build French nuclear submarines converted to diesel-electric power in Adelaide. France has already signalled it would not impede a NZ-EU trade pact.
European countries generally are concerned at the new nuclear submarine pact. EU capitals had no prior warning despite President Joe Biden’s expressed desires to repair relations bruised under Donald Trump. It was also angered by Biden’s failure to alert Europe of his withdrawal from Afghanistan despite the presence of European forces in that country.
France has indicated it is keen to enhance relations with NZ in the Pacific covering economic, strategic and political questions. Independence is a possibility for New Caledonia and Paris has been looking at the NZ-Cook Islands linkage to see whether it might be adapted for a new association with its Pacific territory.
A visit to London is almost certain and the PM may be able to conclude a UK-BNZ FTA after negotiations slowed when the British trade minister, Liz Truss, stepped up to become Foreign Secretary in PM Boris Johnson’s recent Cabinet reshuffle.
There is some talk over whether the PM could help smooth relations between France, the UK and the US. President Joe Biden called Macron last week in his first attempt to assuage French anger, conceding that the case might have been better handled. He and Macron will meet again next month at the G20 meeting in Europe.
The real challenge is Australia-France. Australian PM Scott Morrison has shown no enthusiasm to calm the waters, arguing the French were already aware of Canberra’s concerns that the submarines would not fit current strategic concerns.
Paris denies this and is aware of Morrison’s long affinity with the US, dating back to his visit to Washington where he was lauded by Donald Trump.
There is a perception in Paris that Morrison gamed Biden by opening contacts with the UK on the nuclear submarine question.
The PM has also put some backbone into foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta’s overseas travel plans. Our Beehive contacts believe the PM reminded her foreign minister it was time to pack her suitcase and take to the road.
She is going to the expo in Doha in November to promote the NZ cultural presence. Now there is talk she may also visit Canada.