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Peters: Speech to NZ- Israel Trade Association

Rt Hon Winston Peters
Minister of Foreign Affairs

17 February 2006

An address by Rt Hon Winston Peters to the New Zealand Israel Trade Association Annual Trade Awards, Lumley Centre, Auckland

New Zealand Israel Trade Association Annual Trade Awards

Your Excellency, Ambassador Naftali Tamir, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for the invitation to attend tonight’s New Zealand-Israel Trade Awards.

Congratulations in advance to those of you who will receive awards. Your commitment to trade is to be commended.

Your invitation included the request to share some insights on Israel and the Middle East .

Despite being a relatively small and isolated nation on the other side of the globe, New Zealand has a longstanding interest and involvement in the Middle East in general and Israel in particular.

Our primary focus since July 2005 – following the resumption of diplomatic links between New Zealand and Israel – has been to re-establish the relationship and expand on our links.

We were saddened to hear of Prime Minister Sharon's sudden illness and have conveyed to him, his family and the people of Israel, a message of support from the Government and people of New Zealand.

We have also conveyed to Israel, through a letter to Foreign Minister Livni, our best wishes for the challenges that lie ahead, including preparations for next month’s national elections.

These will be testing times for Israel and the international community will be watching developments closely.

The Israeli elections come on the back of the unexpected outcome of the Palestinian elections on 25 January. These elections, which election monitors have described as free and fair, delivered a decisive victory to Hamas - and came as a surprise to many in Israel and the international community.

The New Zealand Government's response was that the election result reflected the will of the Palestinian people and must be respected. Hamas now needs to get on with the task of forming a government and getting to grips with a range of pressing challenges.

In the immediate future Hamas leaders must renounce terrorism; restore law and order; and avert a looming economic and financial crisis.

Hamas’ political future will also hinge on its ability to cultivate and maintain constructive relationships with a range of international and regional partners, many of whom provide critical financial support to the Palestinian Authority.

There will also be increasing pressure on Hamas to redefine its relationship with Israel.

At the present time Hamas’ charter - which rejects Israel’s right to exist - sets it on a collision course with the West. New Zealand has strongly urged Hamas to end the violence and terrorism of its armed militias and recognise Israel’s parallel right to exist in peace and security.

Hamas now has an historic opportunity and responsibility to change direction and embrace the peace process.

The New Zealand Government’s longstanding policy has been to take a balanced and constructive approach to the Israel/Palestine conflict and this will continue.

We may not be a major player in this region, but we will continue to maintain our call for dialogue and constructive engagement, and will provide support where we can.

We uphold Israel's right to exist within secure and recognised borders. At the same time, New Zealand considers that the Palestinians have the right to self-determination and to a viable and territorially contiguous state.

In this regard New Zealand strongly supports the UN, EU, Russia and US -sponsored Road Map for Peace.

The role of this Quartet in helping to broker agreements and encouraging both sides to re-engage in the peace process is vital.

New Zealand recognises that there are urgent structural, governance, economic and health needs to be addressed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories if they are to move towards statehood.

Without Israel’s support for economic development, it is difficult to imagine how an enduring resolution to the conflict will be possible.
We are aware that developments in the Middle East have implications for the entire international community – including nations like New Zealand that are geographically far removed from this region's horizons.

For this reason New Zealand has played an active role in the region through diplomacy and the provision of monitors and peacekeepers. We have diplomatic missions in Ankara (which is accredited to Israel), Riyadh and Tehran and in November this year, New Zealand will open an embassy in Cairo .

Our involvement in security in the region dates back to the two World Wars, and the responses to such events as the Suez crisis and the Gulf War. More recently the New Zealand Government has supported the international campaign against terrorism.

Around 200 New Zealand Defence personnel are currently serving in various locations in the Middle East. In fact the United Nations Treaty Supervisory Organisation (UNTSO) is New Zealand’s longest standing peacekeeping mission.

Our defence contributions, which are supplemented by development assistance grants and political contacts, underline our commitment to international efforts to secure peace and stability in the Middle East.

Now, to turn to the matters that have brought us here tonight – trade.

Trade is vital to New Zealand’s overall economic growth. New Zealand firms are reliant on access to foreign markets to gain economies of scale and remain internationally competitive.

New Zealand exports around $1 billion annually - up to 80 percent of it meat and dairy products – to the Gulf States and the wider Middle East. Last year New Zealand’s imports from the Middle East totalled $1.7 billion.

In recent years we have increasingly seen our trading interests diversify into new areas – including high technology products such as communications equipment. There have also been some promising developments in the services sector.

However, it is clear that more can be done to enable our exporters to access opportunities in the Middle East. This will require an active and concerted effort by the government and the business community.

Currently the balance of trade is weighed heavily in Israel’s favour. In the year to June 2005 New Zealand exports to Israel totalled NZ$16.8 million while imports from Israel were worth NZ$88.2 million.

It is clear that while Israel finds an open market for its products in New Zealand, New Zealand traders are not realising similar opportunities in the protected Israeli market.

Institutional linkages, through the New Zealand-Israel Trade Association, have a valuable role to play in facilitating closer trade ties between our two countries.

In 2004 a delegation of business and parliamentary representatives visited Israel. The visit, which was organised by NZITA leader Mike Nathan, enabled the delegation to make business and political contacts, gain an appreciation of the wider socio-political landscape, and visit a state of the art joint venture between Fonterra, a Swiss Canadian consortium and Israel.

This initiative is an example of the way in which New Zealand and Israeli businesses can work collaboratively to mutual benefit.

Israel enjoys a strong reputation in New Zealand as a technological leader. New Zealanders have benefited particularly from Israel’s success in promoting knowledge-based industries – this is one area that could be developed and strengthened to mutual advantage.

There is no doubt that the growing number of people-to-people exchanges provides an important underpinning to the bilateral relationship. Israel is a good source of tourists and will remain of fundamental importance for New Zealand’s Jewish community.

The visitor visa waiver arrangement between our two countries has enabled us to welcome large numbers of Israeli visitors to our shores.

Additional ways to bolster these exchanges including through a Working Holiday Scheme are under consideration.

Israel’s intention to reopen its resident embassy in Wellington is most welcome. This will provide further impetus to the development of a broad based relationship.

We have much to look forward to as the New Zealand/Israel relationship deepens and strengthens. Expanding bilateral trade has a crucial role in this development.

Again, congratulations to those who will receive awards tonight, and commendation to the members of the New Zealand and Israel Trade Association for your contribution to building closer relations between our two countries.


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