The Nation: US Ambassador Scott Brown
On Newshub Nation: Mike Wesley-Smith interviews US Ambassador Scott Brown
• US Ambassador Scott Brown says it is "politics as usual" in Washington - and the events of the last week do not spell a crisis for the administration. "You have people who will still support him, regardless, and people who will never support him, regardless."
• He says "everything’s moving in a positive direction" regarding New Zealand's request to have US Steel tariffs removed, but he does not know what the time frame will be. "I know there’s a great effort to make it happen. And if it takes me making a phone call to the president at the appropriate time, I’ll do it."
• He says the US do not want to pull the US out of the WTO. "They want to reboot the WTO, it needs to be modernised."
It’s been a tumultuous week in American politics.
President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul
Manafort was found guilty of bank and tax fraud just before
the president's former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty
to campaign finance violations. Cohen's also implicated
President Trump - saying he told him to pay hush money to
two women. US Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown is a
former republican senator for Massachusetts. Mike
Wesley-Smith began by asking him if this was a crisis for
the Trump administration.
Scott Brown: It’s politics as usual, quite frankly. I mean, if you know the history of our country, we have, both parties, ebbs and flows, highs and lows. And our founding fathers wanted democracy to be messy. The good part of it is, we wear it all on our sleeves; it’s very transparent and everybody has an opinion about something. And what the political commentators say, it doesn’t affect me or us in this relationship, and, quite frankly, it doesn’t affect the President. You have people who will still support him, regardless, and people who will never support him, regardless. And I look at what he’s done; and that’s obviously dealing with, you know, North Korea, with the problems with China, with addressing our economic needs, making businesses, streamlining and consolidating, and making that economic engine move. That’s kind of what I look at.
Mike Wesley-Smith: Because, you’re right, politics can be messy. There have, though, been 45 US presidents, only three for whom the word impeachment has been in close proximity. It’s dominating the news over there. Do you have a view on how likely it seems that he could be impeached?
No, I certainly don’t, because I don’t get into the ‘but’s and ‘what-if’s. I mean I deal in facts, usually. I mean I know we have had, in our country’s history, Bill Clinton’s an example. There is a process. It’s a transparent process. You know, I have always have said publicly, ‘Listen, wherever the chips fall, so be it. We have checks and balances. They’re meant to be in place for a reason. I find our founding fathers were brilliant in that regard, you know, developing a system that works, notwithstanding some idiosyncrasies.
Yeah. So, I mean, do you consider, though, that these legal issues have had any impact whatsoever on his core base?
I’m so far removed from it, from politics. I mean, I was in it for 30 years. And being a U.S. Ambassador, as a diplomat, I don’t get involved in the politics any more. I just know what I read and I know that when I look at what happened in North Korea, when I look what is happening with our economy, the stock market, the business climate and these amazing successes. I’d like to remind your viewers you don’t hear about, like in immigration, you don’t hear about the tens and tens of thousands of people who are coming in legally and living the American dream. You don’t hear about the businesses that are hiring and growing and expanding. You know, you always hear about the negative thing. I kind of find that a little bit frustrating.
Well, moving to a question of international relations, New Zealand still hasn’t yet been granted an exemption for the tariffs, why not?
First of all, it’s not over till it’s over. And we’ve been focusing collectively, Ambassador Grosser and our teams on both sides of the ocean on the KIWI Act. Now, just to let your viewers know what that is, it’s an investment trader visa which, as I traveled around New Zealand from the day I got here, for the last couple of decades they’ve been trying to get it. It will open the floodgates, potentially, to billions of dollars of trade back and forth and it’s something that we did in 10 months. And with all the craziness back home in the States, it passed through the House and Senate seamlessly and the President signed it immediately. So when you’re looking at those types of things, that was a higher priority. When you see a lean, you have to do it. We’re also doing a TIFA, which is a Trade Investment Framework Agreement, which is the next step towards a free trade agreement. So we’re focusing on these things that are, like, red hot right now. The thing that you are referring to, it’s a world-wide issue. Obviously steel is important, and New Zealand has a very di minimus role right now. We’re still working on it. I’d just like to say everything’s moving in a positive direction.
So, will the tariffs be removed, yes or no? Do you have an answer to that?
I’m not a fortune teller. But I know there’s a great effort to make it happen. And if it takes me making a phone call to the president at the appropriate time, I’ll do it. But I don’t want to, kind of, use that chip now, because the administrative process is moving forward. I believe it should happen, and I’ve made that very clear.
Right. It’s obviously happening in the wider context of what’s been called, though, a ‘trade war’. And the problem with trade wars is that they can spread and take unpredictable courses. New Zealand has been said to be feeling the fallout, at least with respect to dairy prices, it’s at an eight month low. Do you consider that anyone is winning in this war?
Well, I think you need to step back. And it’s kind of like when you’re in an argument with your brother or sister or wife, you know? You have the argument and then you get to step back and say, you know, ‘why are we having the argument?’ The reason we’re in this position is because China’s been manipulating the currency, dumping low-cost low-quality steel in the world market and stealing our intellectual property, and the President finally said ‘enough’. And as a result of those initial tariffs, which I support him 100 per cent, because don’t forget in Hamilton they’re ripping the steel out of those highways because it’s faulty. Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington, the buildings aren’t, the steel isn’t up to code. So you need to do something, and the President had the guts to do something. That being said, China retaliated in, I thought, in an inappropriate way, going right for the President’s base with soybeans. They’re basically used to feed the Chinese people. So we’re going back and forth. So what’s the goal? I think the goal is clearly to get China to the table to just, if they’re going to be a world leader, world superpower, they’ve got to play by the rules. And they’re not.
Do you consider, though, that you’re actually achieving that goal? I mean, what do you point to as tangible?
Well, let’s take a step back and talk about South Korea for a second. Same situation, but we just renegotiated that trade deal, that’s working. These need to be modernised, we’re looking at NAFTA, we’re close on that as well. We’re renegotiating these trade deals that have been in effect for, gosh, so long. And now you have a situation where China, with respect, and if you don’t believe me, you know, listen to President Obama and Secretary Clinton, they’ve had a free ride for 30 years. And if they’re going to be a world leader, world superpower, they’ve got to start playing by the rules. They can’t manipulate the WTO to get a tactical advantage. And when we put a car into China it’s, what, 23 per cent? They do it here, it’s three for us. So we’ve got to make it fair, and that’s the goal.
Well, talking about the rules, obviously the WTO plays a huge role in protecting the interests of smaller nations who need that protection.
So we have a great relationship working with New Zealand on those issues, absolutely.
Of course. Of course, Trump, though, has assailed the WTO, at least, calling it ‘a disaster.’ Do you consider it’s likely at all that he’ll look to pull the United States out of the WTO?
Absolutely not. The good news is, one of my best friends is the WTO Ambassador. I speak to him regularly. They want to reboot the WTO, it needs to be modernised. It needs to get back to its original charter and do the things it’s supposed to do, do the appeals process in a timely manner, not politicizing decisions which they’re not—And the good news is that we have Kiwis right now working with the WTO representative trying to find that solution. So, no, we don’t want to destroy it; we don’t want to pull out. But we do want to modernise and reboot it. And I think that’s critical to that rules-based order that’s so important to all of us.
Because the WTO’s functionality is teetering because of that lack of appointment of judges…
No, it’s still functioning. But it’s never really functioned and done its job in quite a while. They’re not hitting that 90-day appeal process and they need to do it better.
But blocking judge appointments means that it’s nullified because—
No, it’s still functioning. Blocking judge appointments to make sure that you can get people to the table, sometimes you have to take a hard approach. And I think it’ll be in everybody’s best interests to get this issue resolved, because I’m a firm believer in the WTO and the rules-based order.
Do you have a time frame for when you might see?
Yeah, I do, and I think it’ll be done in a reasonable time. I don’t want to disclose too much, and talk about other people’s spheres of influence. But they were working together and working diligently on it.
Cos there’s a timeline looking ahead to next year, I think some commentators are saying that it could stop being able to appeal to the panel.
Well, let’s hope they work hard and with anything that I can input as I make those calls to that WTO ambassador. You know, I tell him directly - I let him know exactly what Minister Parker told me. And I thought it was well said and well received input.
Moving closer to home – our Foreign Minister wants to ramp up New Zealand’s influence in the Pacific. How much value does the US place on New Zealand as a security and defense partner?
Well, let’s talk about the reboot that the Prime Minister and your country have done in the Pacific. I’ve said publicly — it’s off the charts incredible. It’s long overdue, because what it does is it forces Australia to do more. It forces Great Britain — now they’re putting embassies around the region. Our secretary in Singapore said, ‘Listen, we’re putting 113 million as a down payment.’ We need to re-engage. Even though we’ve been here since the Treaty of Waitangi signing for, you know, over 100 plus years, we need to do more. Because this One Belt One Road initiative of China — where they’re basically over-leveraging countries that are not playing by that rules-based order. We need to have that check and balance, and it’s important, and New Zealand is a very, very valuable leader and partner in that effort.
So is that strategic reset really seen as a fundamental change from Washington’s perspective?
No, we’ve always been here. We’ve done so much, and we will continue to do much. And we welcome China as a new player, ‘great, welcome’ — but just play by the rules. You know, that’s all. Just make sure that when you’re doing things you’re not doing things that don’t pass the smell test. We like transparency and sometimes it’s not the same way on the other side.
What would be an example of that?
Well, how about the fact that if you’re in the press in China, they don’t issue you a visa, so you can’t cover it. If you want to have free speech, they don’t allow free and open internet. If you want to object to the way the government is doing things, they may put you in a detention camp. If you don’t like the way things are politically, you change the rules and become a president for life. I mean, I could go on and on and on, and if you want to be the world leader, world super power — you got to, as I said, just play by the rules.
There may be some critics of Trump who say he’s perhaps acting, maybe, in that much less reserved way, you know, taking the free press and looking to rattle institutions. What would you say to that?
Full disclosure, my wife was in the press for 30 years doing what you do. And she was a reporter, presenter, so we had this conversation. And I think there is an absolute obligation and right for the press to do their jobs. Let’s be very frank on that. I also think they should do their jobs well and do them fairly and make sure they’re based on fact and that they’re not editorialising, and, if they’re meant to just be reporting. And, on the other hand, if you’re the subject, some of your viewers may be the subject of some of those stories, you have every right, pursuant to our constitution, freedom of speech, to fight back. And the President’s fighting back, because I’ve said this from the beginning, I don’t think he’s getting a fair go from day one from the media. And he has that right and obligation. So he’s going, using twitter and going right to the people who really have their own opinions about the fairness.
Well, Ambassador, thank you. That’s all the time we have today. But thank you for joining us.
Oh, I’m sorry, we should do it again. This was great, cheers. Thank you.
Absolutely, thank you.
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