Luxon: NZ needs to hustle for more trade

Thomas Coughlan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 1 Jun 2022, 12:18pm
National leader Christopher Luxon said New Zealand needed to hustle for trade, including for a trade deal with the US. Photo / Mark Mitchell
National leader Christopher Luxon said New Zealand needed to hustle for trade, including for a trade deal with the US. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Luxon: NZ needs to hustle for more trade

Thomas Coughlan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 1 Jun 2022, 12:18pm

National leader Christopher Luxon said New Zealand should try to get a trade deal with the United States and other countries, even if it meant a more limited deal than the CPTPP agreement.

Australia and the United Kingdom had recently pursued "early harvest" agreements with India, removing barriers on so-called "low-hanging fruit", but excluding more contentious issues.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern met US President Joe Biden this morning but, as expected, did not secure greater access to the US for New Zealand exporters.

Luxon said the meeting was "good for New Zealand".

"Top-to-top relationships between a prime minister and a president of the US is a good thing," Luxon said.

"The US is our third-largest trading partner. We don't have a free trade agreement with the US like the Australians do," Luxon said.

Australia inked an FTA with the United States in 2004 after the John Howard Government and George W. Bush administration drew close on foreign policy over international terrorism and the Iraq war.

"We've got to get out and about in the world," Luxon said.

Australia recently signed a deal with India but Trade Minister Damien O'Connor said at the time concluding a full FTA with India was "not a realistic short-term prospect".

Luxon said New Zealand needed to "hustle and do trade anywhere and everywhere we possibly can".

Former Foreign Minister Winston Peters had tried to interest the Trump administration in a limited FTA relating to digital services as part of a strategy to get New Zealand's foot in the door when it came to US trade.

Luxon agreed a limited deal might be one way of overcoming strong US objections to CPTPP, which is widely considered to be a non-starter because of its unpopularity with US voters in crucial swing states for the level of market access it provides in those states.

Luxon said this was where "early harvest" FTAs could be useful. Such a deal could chalk up quick wins, rather than letting trade talks drag out over contentious issues.

"Something is better than nothing," Luxon said.

Luxon said Biden's trade offering for the Pacific, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework was "broad and pretty undefined" but there was an "opportunity to shape that and see if there is any opportunity to create value there as well as keep the pressure on the US around ultimately the CPTPP".

China in the Pacific

Luxon vented concern about the state of New Zealand's relationships with Pacific island nations after news last week China would try to sign a comprehensive economic and security agreement with 10 Pacific countries.

The deal fell through, but Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has been travelling the Pacific this week trying to strengthen China's relationships with nations.

Luxon said the leaked deal raised questions of the strength of New Zealand's Pacific relationships.

"What is the state of our relationships in the Pacific? What we think they are versus what they actually are is something we're unclear about," Luxon said.

Luxon said Australia's new Foreign Minister Penny Wong had quickly visited the Pacific after being sworn in, and Biden's Asia Pacific Tsar Kurt Campbell has been hitting the phones, but New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta had been missing in action.

In Parliament's Question Time on Tuesday, Act foreign affairs spokeswoman Brooke van Velden and National's foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee repeatedly asked Mahuta whether she had contacted any of the Pacific island nations China had been seeking a deal with in the past 72 hours.

President Joe Biden met with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday morning US time. Photo / AP

President Joe Biden met with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday morning US time. Photo / AP

Mahuta was not clear whether she had contacted any in that time period, saying she had "a number of engagements by Zoom and by phone, and, in particular, in response to significant aspects of their needs at a very critical time".

Mahuta later said it was "very difficult to try and tie down conversations over the weekend", before adding that in the "next 72 hours, during the working week", she had "scheduled a conversation with the Tongan Foreign Minister, with the Cook Islands Foreign Minister, and the Marshall Islands Foreign Minister".

Luxon said this showed a lack of urgency.

"Frankly, I would have had Gerry Brownlee up there right now," Luxon said.

The 2022 Budget has included limited aid finance for Pacific countries, including $75 million to help some stave off fiscal crises as they manage the economic fallout from Covid and higher global commodity prices.

Luxon said he was not against this sort of spending.

"That is important. It is more important that we work out what is needed and we support those goals," Luxon said.

Australian election parallels

Luxon also spoke with the Herald about the Australian election, and what lessons it might have for National going into the 2023 election here.

The Australian Liberal Party was routed after urban outrage at its inaction on issues like climate change, women's rights and its poor treatment of women in politics.

"The Australian system is very different. You're dealing with a government that's been in power for nine years and a cost of living crisis," Luxon said.

"I don't think the parallels between the parties are relevant, to be honest. I think you've got different conditions and different systems," he said.

Luxon said National had been "very clear about where we stand on climate".

"We've been very supportive of net carbon zero 2050, NDC 2030, we've been very supportive of the emissions budgets. We don't dispute the ends of climate change, but some of the means we support and some we don't - we think there are better ways to deliver those outcomes," Luxon said.

On whether National had a lesson to learn from the Liberals' cratering support among women, Luxon said he wanted to see "much more diversity and inclusion in the National Party and a national National Party is when we're at our best".


This week, Labour attacked National for a lack of new policy since Luxon became leader.

Luxon disputes this, saying his criticisms of Labour on issues like autonomous sanctions, humanitarian visas and prohibiting most police pursuits - mostly existing National policy - had shifted the Government's own positions.

The Government has not implemented an autonomous sanctions regime, but it has created a bespoke sanctions regime for Russia, opened new visas for Ukrainians, and Police Commissioner Andy Coster this week said police were reviewing their pursuit policy.

Luxon said National had a policy development process in place for the next election.

"Nicola [Willis, National deputy leader], and I are meeting each of the 33 MPs one-on-one, discussing with each MP the 3-5 things that would make the biggest difference in their portfolio and the biggest issues in their portfolio that we need to resolve when we take over," Luxon said.

Luxon said these priorities would mean National would be ready on "day one" and not rely on working groups to develop policy, which was a frequent criticism of Labour's first term.

"We've had those conversations about the 3-5 big things about the strategic direction," Luxon said.

Luxon said MPs were also working in "clusters" of similar portfolio areas to develop policy.

Infrastructure spokesman Chris Bishop was working with transport spokesman Simeon Brown, and local government spokesman Simon Watts, for example.

"They act as a cluster to come and think about the linkages that link those bits together," Luxon said.

Luxon said the caucus would also be involved in policy development, although this would be led by the caucus' front bench team, who have meetings in addition to caucus.

"We have a front bench team, we have a discussion where we tend to discuss policy - we had one last night," Luxon said.

"We had a topic we wanted to talk about and it was multi-portfo-ed and we spent an hour just throwing all the ideas on the table around that," he said.

Luxon said National would take a "comprehensive" set of policies to the election, but in the interim National would be doing its "job", which he defined as "opposing the government, and proposing ideas which take it forward".