I am pleased to present this annual report on the Council’s activities, my second as Council Chair.
The past year has been “business as usual” in the multi-faceted relationship between New Zealand and the United States. Every day of every year New Zealanders as business people, officials, peacekeepers, tourists, scientists or students participate in a relationship which is without doubt one of New Zealand’s most active and, certainly in the Council’s view, most strategically important for our country’s future.
The US is even more than our second largest export market, it’s the world’s leading source of ideas, innovation and entrepreneurship - that has to be important to us as we seek to make New Zealand a ‘high skill, high wage, high productivity” economy. There is much to celebrate in a relationship which, to quote the Prime Minister, is healthy and works well.
It’s true also that during the election campaign considerable public scrutiny was focused on political aspects of the relationship. Now the election campaign is over and we have a new government team in place, the time is right for the Council working in close partnership with Ministers and officials to show leadership in helping expand those areas of the relationship that are ripe for further development. We also need to ensure that those few areas where New Zealand and the United States have different points of view do not detract from the many we have in common.
For some years now the Council has advocated strongly the need for a free trade agreement between the two countries. While this goal has yet to be realised, and while time is increasingly against us with the President’s negotiating authority set to expire in mid 2007, New Zealand’s case, based on our impeccable free trade credentials, is strong. Over the last year the Council has worked closely with its counterpart organisation in Washington the US NZ Council, and with the New Zealand Embassy to continue to ensure New Zealand’s case is made at the right times and in the right places. The Council welcomed enthusiastically the establishment of the Friends of New Zealand Caucus in Congress and sent a delegation to attend the Friends’ launch in February. This new group provides a major boost to New Zealand’s profile in the Congress and consequently our lobbying effort on the Hill, undertaken on our behalf by Peter Madigan, has been able to be wound down. That arrangement delivered significant benefits during a key period and I am grateful to those members of our Council who provided funding. The option of engaging further lobbying support remains before the Council.
Back home the Council has been active in welcoming incoming delegations from the United States – such as the visit of six legislative assistants in late March -, in offering public commentary on the benefits of closer co-operation with the US and in building business support for the Council’s activities. The Council co-sponsored the Gateway to America Trade Summit held in Auckland in September and the participation by the very larger number of business people with interests in the US was very encouraging. The Council has also continued to offer members a chance to meet with New Zealand Ministers and officials with several roundtable meetings held during the year.
In April a private visit by John Mullen, President of the US NZ Council - and an outstanding advocate for New Zealand in Washington - provided an opportunity for a debrief on the Washington scene. I am delighted that John together with Jeremy Quinn, Director of Operations at the Council, will again be present at our AGM on 30 November. We will be discussing further with John and Jeremy plans for a high level joint Council event in Washington DC to be held in April 2006.
Since mid October the Council’s work has been greatly strengthened by the appointment of Stephen Jacobi as our new Executive Director. Stephen is no stranger to the Council having served on the Advisory Board since the Council’s inception. He is well known in business and government circles as former CEO of the Forest Industries Council, Executive Director of the Trade Liberalisation Network and Private Secretary to the Minister for Trade Negotiations. I personally am delighted to be working with Stephen again and wish him well for his appointment. Stephen has a brief to re-examine the focus and operations of our organisation with a view to presenting a new strategic plan. He will be fulfilling this part time role from his Napier base with regular commuting to Auckland, Wellington and elsewhere.
I should record my thanks also to our former Chief Executive Ellen Gordon who departed in February to return to the US. Ellen was instrumental in initiating a number of key activities and in expanding the Council’s support base. We wish her well in her new role with NZ Trade and Enterprise in LA. Ellen was replaced briefly by Jim Burns who likewise left to pursue business interests in the US. There can be no greater proof of the attractiveness of the US in a business sense that we have lost two key staff to new opportunities there in less than twelve months !
Despite these changes in personnel, the Executive Board of the Council has continued to meet regularly and remains focused on the broader vision we have set – to be the primary organisation in New Zealand engaged in promoting the importance of the broader US-NZ relationship, with an overall focus to prepare the way for a free trade agreement. I am grateful to members of the Executive Board, the Advisory Board and to members for their commitment and financial support and to the Government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade 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 other organisations, including the American Chamber of Commerce, with whom we work closely.
The way ahead over the next year will see us focus on raising the profile of the organisation through enhanced media commentary and a new website; implementing a number of high profile events in New Zealand to galvanise business and public interest in the relationship with the US; and, at the US end, continuing to support the work of the US NZ Council and the NZ Embassy to build our nation’s profile in a country of fundamental importance to our economic future.
Rt Hon Jim Bolger ONZ
30 November 2005