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English joins MPs on Washington trip

Hon Bill English MP National Party Leader

16 June 2003

English joins MPs on Washington trip

National Party Leader Bill English has decided to join a team of his MPs heading to Washington today to discuss foreign affairs, trade and defence matters with Congressmen, Senators and officials in Washington.

He will accompany Foreign Affairs spokesman Wayne Mapp, Trade spokesman Lockwood Smith and Defence spokesman Simon Power on a week-long visit, returning next Tuesday.

While the three spokesmen had planned their visit for some months, as part of National's policy review process, Mr English said he had only recently decided to join the team and make his first visit to Washington since he became Leader of the Opposition.

He had been influenced in this partly through the talks he had in Canberra a few weeks ago with Prime Minister John Howard and other Australian Cabinet Ministers.

"New Zealand is obviously close to Australian foreign and defence policy, Australia's policy dovetails with America and we need to have this squared off, too.

"We need to have a good feel for where the United States is going with the rest of the world and where their interests overlap with ours."

The State Department is still finalising appointments because the status of the visit was upgraded at reasonably short notice once Mr English decided to join the group. As well as meeting Senators and Congressmen, the group will make contacts with members of the administration involved with the National Security Council, foreign relations, trade and defence.

They will also have a dinner with US/NZ Council President Fred Benson, who is spearheading efforts for a free trade agreement.

"Achieving this agreement will be a fundamental priority of National's foreign and trade policy."

Mr English said the National MPs wanted to exchange views and make contacts first hand. Information from the trip would be used in the policy review process.

"At the moment, foreign policy under Labour has lurched from insult to apology, to attempts to curry favour in Washington by larger-than-expected commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan. We believe that to regain credibility our foreign and defence policies must be reliable and long-term," said Mr English.

Ends


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