Is he confident that the current visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to the United States will have a positive effect on the effort to get a New Zealand - United States free-trade agreement; if not, why not?
Yes, I am reliably informed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade that Winston Peters had a very successful meeting with Condoleezza Rice this morning. Trade matters, of course, are not specifically within the Minister’s portfolio, but I am told by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade that the meeting was characterised by both sides as being friendly, constructive, and forward-looking, which I believe is very positive for our overall relationship.
Does the Minister judge Mr Peters’ meeting with Senator McCain yesterday to have been a success; if so, how?
I judge that meeting on the substance of the meeting, and again I am informed that it was a positive and constructive meeting with a senator whom both Winston Peters and I have met before in New Zealand, and who is a very strong supporter of New Zealand’s case, both for the resumption of training in military matters and for a free-trade agreement. I judge it on the substance of the meeting, not on the spat that might have occurred between some journalist and the Minister because they had a disagreement.
How does the Minister assess the level of support within the United States’ political and business sectors for free-trade agreements with New Zealand?
There is very strong support within the corporate business and congressional sector for free-trade negotiations. If I use as an example Tom Donohue, who is the President of the US Chamber of Commerce, or Governor John Engler, who is the President of the National Association of Manufacturers, I can say that both have been strong advocates for such an agreement. Within Congress the New Zealand caucus now has 65 members. Included amongst those members, or supporters, are Senator John McCain and Senator John Sununu, who both, on leaving New Zealand, after meeting with Winston Peters and myself, wrote personally to the President advocating for such an agreement.
In what way did the decision of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Peters, to interrupt Senator John McCain in mid-sentence as he was promoting the case for a free-trade agreement between New Zealand and the United States advance the prospect of such an agreement being reached?
I understand that the Minister was advised that this was a photo opportunity only. He has a certain amount of time for discussions with his counterparts and he did not want that time to be taken up with questions from journalists who could have asked those questions after the meeting.
What support is there within the administration for starting free-trade negotiations, and what is the likely time frame?
The Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs is Chris Hill. He has been very supportive of New Zealand’s case, much more so than I can remember of anybody in the administration over the last 6 years. I have to say that both the former US Trade Representative, Rob Portman, and the current Trade Representative, Susan Schwab, have shown some sympathy for New Zealand’s position. It is likely, however, that major negotiations that are taking place between the US and Korea and Malaysia, which are amongst their top trading partners, will take up most of the time that is left within the current trade promotion authority. I think our position at the moment should be to position ourselves for the next opportunity to come up when there is a new trade promotion authority.
If the approach taken by Mr Peters in his discussions with Senator McCain yesterday was as successful as the Minister has just told the House it was, can we take it he will be using such an approach as his own model for future negotiations overseas; if not, why not?
I think the Minister and I have slightly different approaches in these matters, but I can assure the member that the independent reports I have from those who were at the meeting—and neither the member or I were there—were that this was a substantive, positive, and constructive meeting. The fact that there was a disagreement between the Minister and the media is neither here nor there in relation to his good relationship with his counterparts.
Does the Minister believe that the earlier statement made by him that the Government’s relationship with Mr Peters is the sort of relationship one has with one’s mother-in-law has any application in relation to events in Washington yesterday; if so, what is that application?
With due deference to my late mother-in-law, I had a fantastic relationship with her, but I do know that she liked her own space and I like my own space.
Has the Minister been advised why it was that Dr Cullen was appointed Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs in Mr Peters’ absence, rather than himself as a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, and can he reassure the House that no adverse conclusions should be drawn regarding his working relationship with Mr Peters as a result of that oversight?