I am pleased to present this annual report on the Council’s activities, my third as Council Chair.
The past year has seen a noticeable enhancement of the relationship between New Zealand and the United States. Credit for this must go to both governments, and their officials, and to the business interests in both countries who have supported the operations of the two Councils, the US NZ Council in Washington and the NZ US Council here in New Zealand. That support enabled us to organise a highly successful, inaugural US NZ Partnership Forum in Washington DC 20-22 April 2006. The Forum was significant not only for its high level attendance and stimulating discussion but also for the new momentum in the relationship it has helped to create.
Organising an event such as the Forum was not without risk but surpassed expectations on both sides. I take this opportunity to thank my fellow Co Chairs Rt Hon Mike Moore, Hon Clayton Yeutter and Senator George Mitchell and all those who participated in the event. The Forum will be repeated in Auckland in the second half of 2007. This too will represent a considerable challenge but work to prepare the event is already well advanced. We plan to announce the date of the Forum at this AGM.
The Forum was also instrumental in helping secure the profile of the Council as the leading advocate of the NZ US relationship in New Zealand. The Forum helped the Council to achieve and sustain significant media exposure and rekindled corporate interest in our organisation. As a result our fundraising campaign this past year, backed up by a new approach to funding from “foundation” and “sustaining” partners, has been very successful. With 25 organisations more than matching the financial support from the Government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, we have a sound financial base going forward. We also have a larger number of business and community leaders involved in our activities which reflects the broadly based nature of New Zealand’s relationship with the US.
With the Forum as the centerpiece of its activity, the Council has continued to build the domestic constituency for the relationship, to demonstrate New Zealand’s enduring relevance in and to the US, and to strengthen its own operations. These three key result areas are highlighted in a new two-year strategic plan adopted by the Executive Board earlier this year, which drives our annual business plan.
I thank Board members for their commitment to these strategic planning processes. Three Board members, Roy Ferguson (MFAT), Denham Shale and Phil Turner (Fonterra), resigned from the Board during the year and Carl Worker (MFAT) and Mike Hearn (AmCham) joined us. I thank them all for their contribution to the success of the Council. I am delighted to report that the Board’s membership will be strengthened this year by the addition of Stephen Collins (Business NZ), Fiona Cooper Clarke (Fonterra), and Cam Wallace (Air New Zealand). Our Advisory Board has also been enlarged.
During the year the Council launched its website – www.nzuscouncil,com - which has a large and growing amount of information about New Zealand and the United States. I encourage all Council supporters to sign up to the website’s mailing list. The Council offers regular media and public commentary on the relationship and publishes an occasional newsletter. The Council’s public positioning will be improved by the adoption of a new visual identity to be launched at this AGM.
While the Council operates largely as a virtual network, several successful events were held during the year, including the formal dinner to welcome US Ambassador Bill McCormick and Mrs Gail McCormick to New Zealand in Auckland last November and functions with returning New Zealand Ambassador to Washington John Wood in both Auckland and Wellington. The Council enjoys strong support from both Embassies and I warmly thank Ambassador McCormick in Wellington and our former Board member Ambassador Roy Ferguson in Washington. A reception following the Board’s August meeting in Wellington was well attended and included five Congressional assistants visiting New Zealand at the invitation of the Government. A reception will be held following this AGM and earlier this month Council supporters will have had several opportunities to meet with John Mullen, President of the US NZ Council. John’s contribution in Washington continues to be admired and appreciated by us all.
John Mullen will also attend the launch of the New Zealand-United States Parliamentary Friendship Group to take place in an event sponsored by the NZ US Council in the Grand Hall of Parliament on 15 November. The Council is pleased to have played a role in encouraging the formation of this group in the current Parliament and looks forward to working with members to develop the relationship with its counterpart the Friends of New Zealand Congressional Caucus in Washington.
As I have observed previously, the US has a key role to play in the transformation of the New Zealand economy. It is not only our second largest export market - it’s the world’s leading source of ideas, innovation and entrepreneurship. It is pleasing to see the relationship increasingly seen in these terms, alongside the more traditional, political view of the relationship which remains as important as ever.
The Council continues to advocate the need for a free trade agreement between the two countries but we are realistic about this being achieved in the short term. While the Administration continues to express interest in an FTA with New Zealand, it is now clear that an FTA can only be delivered once the future of the President’s trade negotiating authority is clarified and when the Administration decides to lift New Zealand in the priority queue. That is why the Council welcomes the enhancement of the relationship evident over the last year and why the Partnership Forum is so critical in terms of developing the American constituency for New Zealand.
I must record my thanks to the Council’s Executive Director, Stephen Jacobi, who has provided outstanding leadership and energy in establishing the Council’s profile since his appointment in October 2005. The Council now operates very effectively and with minimal infrastructure and administrative overheads, is focused on key deliverables and well targeted in its overall approach.
I am grateful to members of the Executive Board, the Advisory Board and to our government and business supporters for their encouragement and funding. I express my appreciation also to the Auckland Regional Chamber of Commerce for the administrative support it provides to the Council, and to the other organisations, including the American Chamber of Commerce, Fulbright New Zealand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and Tourism NZ with whom we work closely.
Next year’s Partnership Forum in Auckland gives us an unparalleled opportunity to enhance further New Zealand’s relationship with a country of fundamental importance to our economic future. I have no doubt that with the help of the Council’s strongly committed and newly envigoured supporters the Forum will mark another important milestone in the history of this critical relationship.
Rt Hon James Bolger ONZ