Q+A: Jacinda Ardern interviewed by Corin Dann
Q+A: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern interviewed by Corin Dann
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is unsure when free trade talks with Russia will resume
The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Corin Dann on
TVNZ’s Q+A this morning that a nerve agent attack in the
UK this month had “changed everything” in terms of a
potential Free Trade Deal with Russia.
“Salisbury has changed things. We are in an unprecedented position now. That has to have an effect, and it has,” she said.
“We had not resumed FTA talks with Russia and now what I’m telling you is in this environment, I cannot tell you if or when that will occur.”
Q + A
Interviewed by CORIN DANN
JACINDA Well, there are very few other options. And that’s why we have come out and said, ‘This is repugnant. This is a breach of international law.’ Of course, from the UK’s account, there are very few other places that this could have come from – in fact, one. And we have been very strong to denounce what has happened here, and so has the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
CORIN No, he hasn’t, though, because he hasn’t explicitly identified Russia as being the potential perpetrator of this attack, and I put it to you that you haven’t either just then. Was it Russia? And the language is very important here, because we’ve been--
JACINDA Corin, I’ve been very clear – no one else produces that nerve agent.
CORIN Yeah, but that--
JACINDA So who else could it be?
CORIN Yeah, but that still leaves it— It sounds silly, but will you actually say that Russia is responsible? Because there are people around the world watching what you are saying, and saying, ‘Well, we’re on this side, and all our allies are on the other side.’
JACINDA I’d actually correct that. We are in exactly the same position as our allies. We stood up in The Hague and said the same thing. We have called this repugnant and a breach of international law. From the evidence that the UK’s produced, it suggests that no one else could be responsible. I would actually say that it’s only the New Zealand media that seems to have interpreted us as being unequivocal. We have been clear about our statements on this, and we have to be. This is unprecedented, and it is a breach of international law, and we’ve made sure that the UK is clear on our position as well. This is not something that anyone should or could tolerate.
CORIN So, given that, if you’re saying it is Russia that’s responsible, will you consider sanctions or some form of sanction against them because of it?
JACINDA That’s something we’re still talking with our partners around. That request hasn’t come through. It’s not something that at this point has been suggested, but we are staying in close contact with our partners.
CORIN Have you been briefed as part of the Five Eyes? Have you been given intelligence on this attack?
JACINDA I don’t discuss intelligence information or intelligence briefings. I have been in close contact with our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, obviously, all the way through this – also with our Minister of Foreign Affairs and our Minister for Trade and Export Growth.
CORIN So you’re not ruling out the possibility that we would follow with some sort of sanctions.
JACINDA This is the purpose of why we’re staying in touch. I’m not ruling anything in or out at this stage.
CORIN If we believe that it was Russia responsible for this attack, why are we still continuing with talks with Russia on a free trade deal?
JACINDA Well, those formal talks never restarted. They were suspended in 2014. Yes, there have been bilateral discussions, as there have been with a number of other countries since we came in to government. Mostly those have focused on non-tariff barriers, because keeping in mind the EU, the UK, they all trade within the sanctions that are already in place with Russia.
CORIN So we’re not doing a free trade deal with them? Because Winston Peters says he is deadly serious – those were his words – about doing a free trade agreement with Russia. Are you saying that’s not the case?
JACINDA As I’ve pointed out in a few interviews in recent times, and as the Minister of Foreign Affairs himself has said, Salisbury changes things, and it has, and so he himself has said this week, it is too early to say if that now will happen, because we have to take into account the current environment we’re in.
CORIN Hang on. Just roll me through this. Salisbury changes things. So you’re saying…
JACINDA It does.
CORIN …because of this attack, you will not do a free trade agreement with Russia?
JACINDA We’re in a position now—It is too early to say if and when those talks, which were suspended in 2014 and have remained suspended, will resume.
CORIN Why was that even in the coalition agreement?
JACINDA The issue that the Minister of Foreign Affairs raised at the time, and has continued to do so since then, is that, as I’ve said, the EU and the UK, within the sanctions, have continued to trade with Russia. Of course, whilst making sure that they were—
CORIN So have we.
JACINDA Indeed. But we’ve also had a range of non-tariff barriers apply to us as well. The Minister of Foreign Affairs was seeking to have the same access as the EU and the UK, but, as I say, Salisbury has changed things.
CORIN Yeah, but you said in a speech a week or so ago that values were going to be a driving force in your focuses in terms of foreign policy and our place in the world. Putting aside Salisbury, you agreed to put that in the coalition agreement that we would look at furthering a free trade deal with Russia, knowing what Russia had done in Crimea, knowing, arguably, what it’s done in terms of MH17, the US election, all those things. That’s not values-based.
JACINDA No one has ever argued that we would ignore the sanctions.
CORIN But the point is the National government wanted a free trade agreement with Russia; it didn’t want to put it on hold, and it did. It took a principled stand. It said, ‘We can’t do that,’ and put sanctions in, and it stopped the free trade agreement. You, in that coalition agreement, agreed to Winston Peters’ request to put it into a coalition agreement so that we would put it back on the table.
JACINDA I need to correct you there. They suspended free trade talks in 2014, but they continued. There was two-way trade, in the order of, I believe, $500 million, still continuing between New Zealand and Russia.
CORIN But they imposed travel sanctions.
JACINDA And no one has said that we would not apply the sanctions that were in place. And the coalition agreement talked about striving towards. Now, what I’m saying here, though, is the circumstances we’re in right now means that we don’t know if and when we will be in a position to resume those talks, because we are taking a stance alongside our partners.
CORIN But you’re not saying that they’re completely gone? They’re not completely off the table? That’s not the end of it?
JACINDA Right now, that is not a discussion.
CORIN Because the other issues that’s cropped up is that you will have heard the language from the UK’s High Commissioner to New Zealand, in which she made it very clear that it’s not compatible, us having a free trade agreement with Russia and having an EU and a UK deal.
JACINDA And again, the only point that the Minister of Foreign Affairs has made is that Boris Johnson and the UK have undertaken the order of $5 billion worth of trade in recent times. But, actually, that’s immaterial, Corin, because what I’m pointing out here today is that we have made the point – Salisbury has changed things. We are in an unprecedented position now. That has to have an effect, and it has.
CORIN But you mention the $500 million--
JACINDA There is no but.
CORIN Well, no. You say that Europe or Britain is still trading with Russia, but it’s a different story for New Zealand, isn’t it? We’re smaller, and we have to make choices, and are we willing to sacrifice an EU-UK deal in our meat exports for flirting with Russia?
JACINDA And we have. Actually, we have made choices. No, which is why I have consistently said that we prioritise the EU agreement. We always have. It is the number-one agenda for us. It’s in the order of $20 billion worth of two-way trade. That has been our focus. The questions around the Russia FTA have persisted, but in terms of what we’ve been doing as a government, our conversations have focused solely on non-tariff barriers. We had not – we had not – resumed FTA talks with Russia, and now what I’m telling you is in this environment, I cannot tell you if or when that will occur.
CORIN Have you asked Winston Peters? Or has he given you a reason why he wants to start free trade negotiations with Russia when he…? I mean, he famously voted against the China free trade deal, the South Korea deal. He’s never been a great fan of free trade agreements. Did you ask him why he wants this? It seems very odd.
JACINDA I’m clear on what his issue was, and it was a question, as he’s raised before, of fairness. EU and UK both continue to trade within the sanctions. New Zealand faces a range of non-tariff barriers. He wanted to see those removed, and he wanted fairness applied. But, look, that’s the discussion that we’ve been having previous to this last week of events, which he is concerned about, which our Minister of Trade and Export Growth is concerned about, which, of course, as I say, has changed things.
CORIN Who sets foreign policy in your government?
JACINDA Us, as a government – we do collectively. Of course, both our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade and myself all have a role to play.
CORIN Because it does seem that Winston Peters is making comments around Russia, around other issues – potentially China. They seem a bit out of sync with the overall government.
JACINDA I would dispute that. The language around the repugnant acts in Salisbury, our statement of it being a breach of international law and our position on where we stand in the future on trade, we’re being consistent on.
CORIN Well, he’s never gone as far as you’ve gone today, in which you said that there’s no one else who it could have been. He has not been prepared to go that far.
JACINDA Well, at this point, there is no other evidence that suggests it could be anyone else.
CORIN But he’s been saying he wants to wait for the inquiry.
JACINDA And there is inquiry work actually required under international law. On that, he’s absolutely correct. There is a requirement that under international law, work is done. But at this point, of course, there’s nothing to suggest it could be anyone else. Those are simple statements of fact.
CORIN Moving on to the other issue which has dominated this week, which has been Labour’s internal issues with the Young Labour Party. Are you disappointed in how you’ve handled that this week? Do you feel--? You’ve had some criticism that you could’ve been stronger. I mean, we saw Judith Collins coming out today saying she would’ve ripped their throats out. I mean, was she actually encapsulating the mood that was necessary here?
JACINDA I guess the question is – whose throats exactly? Because, of course, what I’m mindful of is that this was, ultimately, rightly or wrongly – wrongly – a camp that was run by young people themselves. Yes, mistakes have been made, and we’re taking responsibility for that, and we’re working very hard to make sure it never happens again. But I’m also mindful that I’m not going to heap blame on young people themselves who may have been involved, but instead taking responsibility as leader – leader within the Labour Party – for what has happened here.
CORIN Well, I think the point she was making was that your General Secretary and others, who, when they found out about it— and, you know, the issues around not telling parents and police and these sorts of things. That’s the point she’s making is that there was a massive failing there. I mean, do you still have confidence in Andrew Kirton?
JACINDA Yes, I do. And I’ve spoken with him at great lengths about the areas where we have failed, where he acknowledges he has made mistakes. But when it comes to the issue of the police, from the advice that I’ve had professionals in the area share, that ultimately always has to be driven by those who are involved. Look, as a parent, would I have wanted to know? Absolutely. But is that something that we can compel or force or should we compel or force? No.
CORIN Why do you still have confidence in him? He let you down badly. It’s naïve to think that he didn’t need to tell you, isn’t it? I mean, it just seems crazy.
JACINDA Yeah, and, again, look, I doubt we’ll ever have a situation in the future where I wouldn’t have that kind of information shared with me, but at that time, the call was made that the most senior person in the Labour Party, which is actually our President, was informed, our Senior Vice-President, and they swung in to make sure they were focused on the young people.
CORIN So the President didn’t tell you either?
JACINDA And they were focused on the young people rather than political management. And I stand by that being the more important question here. So, look, me being told a few days earlier – even if that had been the case, my first question would’ve been, ‘What are we doing for these young people?’ rather than, ‘How do we politically manage a situation?’
CORIN But their judgement – the judgement of your President and General Secretary – wasn’t up to the mark.
JACINDA Well, it depends on whose test. On the test of whether or not they were focused on those young people at the time they found out, I’ve seen evidence to show that, yes, they did some of the right things that they should’ve. Did they do it quickly enough? No. On that, we are absolutely clear; we should’ve been much faster to respond – no doubt. But as I say, Corin, it’s a moot point around when or where I should’ve known. The fact is what happened still happened to these young people. Whether I was brought in doesn’t change that. They’re the ones we’ve a duty of care to.
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