Speeches and Articles

What’s next for the US/NZ relationship?

21 May 2013

By Stephen Jacobi

Sometimes it’s good to change a familiar script.  That can apply to international relations as much as anything.

The US NZ Pacific Partnership Forum, which opened in Washington DC on Sunday 19 May, is markedly different the four earlier Forum events.  This year’s Forum is significantly bigger (over 250 attendees), more diverse and completely open to the press.   Under the leadership of Bill Maroni and his team at the US NZ Council in Washington, with the support of Ambassador Moore at the Embassy, the Forum aims to go beyond the bilateral relationship and be a global dialogue about how New Zealand and the United States can co-operate to address the big picture issues facing us both.  The Forum is part of a wider NZ Week being staged in the American capital, complete with kapa haka and Air Force band.

This bigger picture has always been part of the history between the two countries.  It needs to be if New Zealand as the smaller partner is to capture the imagination and interest of a global super power.  United by shared values and principles as ‘new world’ societies, but with unique cultures and world views, the two countries have made common cause both on the battlefield and in the halls of peace.  Today, thanks to improvements in the relationship over the last eight years, encouraged and facilitated by the Forum, we co-operate on a wider sphere than ever before. The Wellington and Washington Declarations have placed some new structure into high-level policy exchanges in foreign affairs, development, environmental co-operation and defence.  The political leadership in both countries deserves credit for the continuing steady guidance of this important strategic partnership.

This year’s Forum comes as good progress is being made on devising a new foundation for the economic relationship in the form of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which links not only the United States and New Zealand but ten other economies.  This development is long over-due.  Research by NZIER undertaken to brief New Zealand’s Forum delegates shows that over time the two countries have become economically less important to each other. Today New Zealand provides 0.15% of the US’s total goods imports, down from 0.26% in 1991.  The US share of New Zealand imports has dropped from 17% to 9.3% in the same period.  The US remains our third largest export market and a major partner for investment, tourism, film and education.

TPP is about more than just the United States.  Japan’s prospective entry has radically changed the economic prize for New Zealand with GDP set to rise by $2.2 billion up by 2025 up from $0.5 billion without Japan.  TPP is about setting a new framework for trade and investment in the Asia Pacific region. In an age of the global supply chains, US involvement remains critical.  So we can expect a lot of discussion about TPP at the forthcoming Forum, reflecting the significant political and business interest in TPP in Washington right now.

TPP is still a work in progress but concluding a high quality, comprehensive and ambitious agreement will fulfill a vision set out by the NZ US Council on its establishment over ten years ago.  It is time therefore to think proactively about the future of the relationship when securing a free trade agreement will not be the centre of attention.  Now that past difficulties have been overcome, a key question is how this forward trajectory in the relationship can be maintained?  What big new idea will focus the mind and capture attention in Washington and Wellington?  That’s essentially the task of this Forum. Alongside the more traditional trade and foreign policy agenda, the programme includes sessions on new generation issues like creativity in film, innovation in health sciences, technologies that help make our societies safer, addressing food security and building brilliant cities, with a special focus on Christchurch.

The presence of 45 Future Partners in the 20 to 30 age group (in New Zealand’s case drawn from over 150 applicants) should help focus the discussion on what the future might look like.  Hopefully they will help us move beyond the present policy agenda to look at how the two societies can become progressively more inter-connected.  The aim should be to make it easier to visit, work, do business, learn, teach, research and innovate in each other’s countries.   We should look to build on the successes of the Fulbright programme, celebrating 65 years this year, and other exchanges, to link and expand existing programmes, and build a new doctrine for deeper economic and social integration in the 21st century.  This is likely to require changes to a range of existing policies in both countries, including immigration, education and research as well as some new business strategy.  A wider group of stakeholders will need to be engaged in the task, moving the dialogue beyond policy elites and out into the public commons.

In Washington this week we’re making a start to changing our familiar script.  Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken recently about a new Pacific dream.  The US NZ Pacific Partnership Forum will focus some serious energy to the role of the United States and New Zealand in realizing the dream of a better connected Pacific region for the benefit of both societies.

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