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Blair: New Zealand speech

New Zealand speech

28 March 2006

Tony Blair delivered a speech in New Zealand. He is the first British leader to visit there for 50 years.

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Prime Minister:

Good Evening, and I am absolutely thrilled to be in New Zealand. It is somewhere I have always wanted all my life to come and visit. I am delighted I have finally got here after all these years, and yes it was a rather long journey from Brussels, mind you it is always good to leave Brussels - that is off the record incidentally. I don't mean that, of course not.

I would also like to say what a pleasure it is, what a privilege to be here at the occasion of your 150th anniversary. That is a tremendous achievement and I know from my own experience of the Chambers of Commerce in the UK what an immensely important role they play, not just in the economy of a country, but also in keeping the link and the relationship right between government, and business and industry. It is very important.

And of course I am particularly pleased to be welcomed here by Helen, who is someone I have long respected and admired and worked with very closely as a fellow political leader. And I think she is absolutely right in saying that the relationship between our two countries today is founded on obviously very strong historical ties, but actually a lot of interaction in the modern world as well. I know that we are I think the largest source, as you were saying, of migrants into this country and I am told that the visitor numbers topped 300,000 last year, mind you that was partly perhaps because of the Lions tour. We will pass swiftly over that.

But the one thing perhaps sometimes is not always apparent when you are in a country, and living in a country, and working in it, is just how the country is seen from the outside, and New Zealand today is seen as a very exciting and dynamic place. I think that people recognise the contribution it makes, not just to the region, but to the wider world. And I think one of the things that is most important about the relationship that we have today is that I think there are many possibilities for strengthening it. Tomorrow we will obviously be talking about issues to do with the environment and climate change, where New Zealand has a special contribution to make. Of course, as Helen was rightly saying, in terms of the cooperation on defence issues, that is and remains very, very strong, and I look very much forward to the unveiling of the memorial at Hyde Park Corner in November. I think that will be a very special occasion indeed. Because you should know what a very particular place of affection New Zealand has in the hearts of British people. We of course for us, our experience in the 20th century was an experience of huge challenge, and in particular of course two World Wars at which the very existence of our country was at stake. And it was a remarkable thing for people in New Zealand, no matter what the ties, to be prepared to come forward and defend our country and its liberty, and in doing so I have no doubt, defended the liberties of the wider world. But it was somewhat more easy to see that closer to the conflict than it must have been for people here, and yet they answered the call without any hesitation at all, and that is something that no country forgets, and we certainly do not.

I would also like just to take the opportunity, since we are at an event for the Chamber of Commerce, just to say that, I mean I was talking light-heartedly about Europe a moment or two ago, but there is a lot of change that is happening in Europe today as well and that change needs probably to happen faster and further. But I think there are signs that the European Union understands that if it is going to compete in the modern world it does that best by being open to it, by taking down some of the barriers in trade, and I hope very much that we have a world trade round that answers the needs of the world to make sure that we open up our commercial markets and recognise that in the end, by that process of opening up, we all benefit. But again your influence and pressure on that will be important.

And in terms of the economy, in our country certainly the emphasis now is increasingly on how we move up the value added chain. You will be here facing the strong competition that is coming from many parts of Asia. It is very, very clear the most dominant thing perhaps in our politics when we discuss the economy today is the rise of China and India, and the need for countries like ours to increase their investment in skills, in science and technology and innovation, so that the whole time as those lower labour cost countries are becoming more and more competitive, we are able to move up the chain value and still achieve a realistic prospect of prosperity in the future.

But these are all I think the issues that we have in common and one of the things that we have found as a government very, very helpful over the past few years is the dialogue that we have between our respective governments and Ministers, because the issues we face are very, very similar. How do you create a dynamic economy in an era of globalisation whilst protecting basic social provision? How do you make your public services more responsive to the user in today's world? How do you create in a rapidly changing society where traditional communities often break up very easily, how do you create the bonds of community and respect that make life worth living? So there are big, big challenges that we face, and although we face them many, many thousands of miles apart, I think we face them with many of the same attitudes and much shared history.

So I would just like to say how thrilled I am to be here this evening, and as I say absolutely delighted to come to New Zealand to make my first visit. I haven't seen a great deal of Auckland so far, apart from just driving in, but from what I have seen this is a city I am going to want to return to.

Thank you all very much indeed.

ENDS

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