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Official Luncheon in honour of Mr Gõran Persson

Monday 14 February 2005
Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Address at
Official Luncheon in honour of Mr Gõran Persson
Prime Minister of Sweden

Grand Hall, Parliament
Wellington

1.45 pm


Monday 14 February 2005

It is my great pleasure today to welcome to New Zealand the Prime Minister of Sweden, Gõran Persson and his delegation.

Let me express at the outset to the Prime Minister New Zealand’s condolences at the great losses which Sweden suffered only seven weeks ago during the Indian Ocean tsunami. This awful catastrophe affected many countries, and beyond the immediate region Scandanavia’s peoples were particularly badly affected. We are aware that Sweden still has many people unaccounted for, and our hearts go out to all Swedish families who are grieving for lost loved ones.

This visit by Gõran Persson is an historic one – it is the first ever to New Zealand by a Swedish Prime Minister and it is a visit I very much welcome.

I speak as a long time admirer of Sweden, its people, and achievements, and as one who first visited Sweden 29 years ago.

Sweden’s pleasant towns and cities with their historic centres; its lakes, forest, islands, and pristine countryside; and its outstanding quality of life make it a very attractive place to be.

I have been able to meet Prime Minister Persson on a number of occasions at meetings of the Progressive Governance Network, where we established early on that we had a lot in common. I remember with particular pleasure the meeting Prime Minister Persson hosted in Stockholm three years ago.

Prime Minister Persson has been Prime Minister of his country for nine years. Prior to that he was Minister of Finance and responsible for significant improvements in Sweden’s fiscal position. The stability and prosperity Sweden enjoys today owes no small part to the steady hand which Gõran Persson has applied as a long term leader of his people.

Sweden and New Zealand may be geographically a long way apart, but our shared values, attitudes, and policies make us among the most like-minded countries on earth.

There has never been large scale Swedish migration to New Zealand, and nor have New Zealanders been resident in Sweden in any significant numbers at all.

Rather our likemindedness comes from our shared democratic values and common institutions; the fact that we are both small states and firm adherents to multilateralism; and probably also from the strong influence which social democracy had on our economic and social development from the 1930s on. Sweden’s Social Democratic Party has governed for all but nine years since that time.

Sweden’s image in New Zealand is built upon its good international citizenship and its generosity as a donor to the developing world; its strong social provision and liberal values; and its sophisticated industries producing world leading vehicles, machinery, and technology goods and services.

Film aficionados will also recall the tremendous contribution of Ingmar Bergman to world cinema.

And, as a woman, I particularly admire the policies Sweden has long followed to promote equality for women.

Like New Zealand, Sweden has been experiencing robust economic growth, and its unemployment sits below the OECD average.

Also like New Zealand, Sweden in its recent history has had to get its economic house in order and has emphasised the importance of innovation in moving its economy ahead.

Just as our government in New Zealand launched a growth and innovation framework emphasising the importance of education and skills, research and development, the use of technology, the development of more sophisticated goods and services, and a greater export orientation, so Sweden also has an Innovative Sweden Strategy covering much of the same ground.

Sweden scores very highly in leading international surveys of conditions for business, innovation, and future growth. Its total spending on research and development in 2001 was 4.3 per cent – the highest level in the OECD.

Sweden competes not by being the cheapest source of goods and services, but by aiming to be the best. That is also where New Zealand seeks to position itself in the modern global economy – with the most skilled people, the most innovative industries, and offering the best value.

I believe, Prime Minister, that there is room for more contact between us in education, science, and technology, and that those advising us on strategy and policy would find we have much in common.

We also share a determination that the fruits of economic success flow back into society through higher living standards and better services. The level of social provision in Sweden, especially in your support for families and in achieving work-life balance, is something to which we can over time aspire. We look forward to your address later today on Swedish economic and social policy.

In terms of trade between our country, the balance lies well in Sweden’s favour, as its exports to New Zealand are worth more than seven times New Zealand’s exports to Sweden. We hope that a successful Doha WTO round will enable our agricultural exporters to make more headway in the European Union market of which Sweden is part; but, as well, there is surely scope for our innovative sectors, to do better in Sweden’s affluent and discerning market.

One area where more contact between us is set to grow rapidly is in exchanges of young people. We value the Working Holiday Scheme negotiated with Sweden, and at our end have found it fully subscribed.

For that reason, our government has decided to lift the cap on the numbers of young Swedish citizens who can visit New Zealand under the scheme from 1 July this year, and we look forward to our country hosting many more in future.

The dialogue which most often occurs between New Zealand and Sweden is on international issues where we collaborate a lot.

We share a commitment to the rule of international law, to a strong and effective United Nations, and to a world free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

New Zealand supports Sweden’s initiative in funding the Commission headed by Hans Blix on Weapons of Mass Destruction; and we will be making a financial contribution to its research work.

New approaches to the problems of the weapons of mass destruction are needed in an age when the threshold for acquisition of such weapons is relatively low. We would both agree that diplomatic and political solutions to crises over the possession or alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction are greatly to be preferred.

I acknowledge also Sweden as a strong force for action to combat climate change. Both New Zealand and Sweden have experienced wild weather patterns in the past year – New Zealand through serious flooding, and Sweden through the January weather storm which has devastated its southern forests and infrastructure. We human beings have placed great pressure on our planet – pressing it beyond its ecological limits. The challenge of putting that right is daunting, but we would be derelict in our duty to future generations if we did not try.

Prime Minister, in these few words today I have been able to touch on only a few of the many areas where Sweden’s and New Zealand’s interests intersect.

You have travelled a long way to be with us and to see and hear for yourself how much in common this small country has with yours.

We value the opportunity to exchange views with you and your ministers here, in Sweden, and in many other forums, and hope that your visit will open up new opportunities to take our relationship forward.

Thank you for coming.

Ladies and gentlemen, can I now ask you to rise for a toast to His Majesty King Carl Gustaf of Sweden, and to the government and people of Sweden.

ENDS

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