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Peters: Building partnerships with the US

Rt Hon Winston Peters
Minister of Foreign Affairs

22 November 2006

Building partnerships with the US
Address to the New Zealand–United States Council reception
PriceWaterhouseCoopers Building, Auckland

Good evening, and thank you for the invitation to join you here this evening.

Strengthening New Zealand’s relationship with the United States has been our priority over the past year.

It is increasingly evident that there is a growing awareness of the fundamental importance of New Zealand’s relationship with the United States. The New Zealand-United States Council, of course, understands the need for this more than most.

Tonight seems a fitting opportunity, therefore, to share with you a little of the work the government has been putting in to the relationship, and to share with you some of the results.

Some of you will have heard what was said at the American Chamber of Commerce awards ceremony earlier this month, where it was emphasised that working with the United States is the only way we will achieve the sort of world New Zealanders say we believe in: one defined by peace, prosperity and security.

That is the primary reason why strengthening the New Zealand–US relationship has been made such a priority.

Even in our relatively small Pacific patch, there is far more to be done than New Zealand could ever hope to do alone. The situation in Solomon Islands, and recent events in Fiji and Tonga underscore the challenges we face, while highlighting the vulnerability of small states and the importance of good governance.

After discussing these issues last week with the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, it is clearer than ever that where the US and New Zealand share interests we must maximise our cooperation. Where synergies can be found, we must embrace them.

New Zealand’s work alongside the United States in many areas is, of course, not new. But what is different is the renewed commitment made by both sides to review our cooperation across a broad spectrum of engagement to ensure we are working together as effectively as we can be.

So what are we working on – and how have we been boosting our cooperation?

We share many concerns and face similar challenges – counter-terrorism and the broader fight against trans-national organised crime are two examples.

Some of New Zealand’s efforts, for example those aimed at countering terrorism and assisting development and reconstruction in Afghanistan, are well known. But there is a great deal of work being done away from the public gaze.

One example is the engagement of New Zealand Police with the US Joint Inter-Agency Task Force West in Hawaii. Based within US Pacific Command, this Agency focuses on the prevention, detection and investigation of trans-national crime in the Asia-Pacific region, areas in which our Police and Customs have real expertise.

We bring to the Agency's work a wealth of experience in dealing with trans-national crime in the South Pacific, which will help inform its efforts in this part of the world.

At the same time, we are gaining critical insights into law enforcement efforts in the wider Asia-Pacific region, and the chance to establish relationships with US counterparts that will be of long-term benefit to New Zealand.

This is a very good example of win-win cooperation.

Regional security is an area of conspicuous commonality. The recent events in North Korea have bought this sharply into focus.

We welcome the invitation extended by Secretary Rice earlier this year for New Zealand to participate in the informal five plus five grouping on North Korea.

This has provided a worthwhile opportunity for us to contribute to regional efforts aimed at encouraging North Korea to return to the Six Party Talks, and ultimately for it to make a genuine commitment to abandon its nuclear and ballistic weapons programme.

We raised the issue of North Korea's nuclear ambitions at the Pacific Forum, as part of a concerted effort to broaden international condemnation of such dangerous adventurism.

Closer to home, the government has been giving South Pacific issues added weight in discussions with the US, and we are encouraging the US to maintain a solid focus on this part of the world. The possibility of a meeting between US and Pacific Leaders next year is obviously something we support wholeheartedly.

For its part, the US has made clear that it values the unique perspective New Zealand can provide on the South Pacific, based on our engagement in the region and strong people-to-people links.

The issues of democratisation, good governance and stability that pose challenges in many parts of the world are issues we ourselves are grappling with in the Pacific.

New Zealand’s officials are in regular contact with their US counterparts, sharing ideas about what has worked and what hasn’t.

For example, in the past few months the US State Department officials have visited the Solomon Islands to see what we’re doing with Australia in the Regional Assistance Mission there.

If New Zealand can do anything to assist high level interchange between the US and Pacific leadership, we will.

On the environment, while the US and New Zealand might have some different policy perspectives, our scientists are collaborating on over thirty distinct projects under a climate change partnership.

One of the highlights of our scientific cooperation is in Antarctica, where next year we will celebrate 50 years of NZ-US cooperation. Our joint logistics and operations there highlight the very best of what is possible when countries work together for mutual benefit.

Our work together on global trade liberalisation is something many of you will be aware of, and it was at the top of the list of issues discussed at the APEC meetings in Hanoi last week.

The multilateral trading system, so crucial to New Zealand, faces a period of uncertainty and we appreciated the opportunity to be able to discuss future prospects with our American counterparts last week.

Securing a Free Trade Agreement with the United States remains a key objective for New Zealand. It is essential that both business and government leaders continue to build on efforts to achieve this goal.

It is clear that the process of strengthening the NZ-US relationship and advancing our case for an FTA is not about big changes, but rather a concrete, cumulative progress that can be carried on into the future.

It is like putting more scaffolding around the relationship – making it easier to climb up without having to look down to check your footing at every step.

It is also clear that the government cannot act alone. Business, academia and broader links at a personal level are essential – which makes the role of the NZ-US Council, in drawing these interests together, absolutely crucial.

The inaugural Partnership Forum in Washington in April, from all accounts, was a tremendous success.

Plans for the next Forum are well underway. This type of initiative, drawing together key figures from both sides and providing an opportunity for free and frank discussions on a broad range of issues, will help cement the government’s efforts to strengthen the relationship.

To conclude let me thank the Chairman, Board, members and Executive Director of the Council for your hard work in support of New Zealand’s relationship with the United States over the past year.

As we head into next year, let us be positive, and let us keep working together and plan for an even more successful Partnership Forum in 2007.

ENDS

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