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NZ/Latin America Business Council Dinner

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister


NZ/Latin America Business Council Dinner

Latin American Council
Buddle Findlay

8.30 pm

Wednesday 28 August 2001

Thank you for this opportunity to share with you my thoughts on and perceptions of my visit to Latin America.

When I last spoke to members of this Business Council in Auckland in August 2000, I launched the three year Latin America Strategy. That initiative proposed lifting New Zealand’s level of engagement with Latin America across three main pillars of activity - political and international relations co-operation; trade and economic activities; and enhancing people to people contacts.

My visit to Latin America took place against a backdrop of increased activity under the strategy. Even before we left, just two weeks ago, we had accomplished a lot. President Lagos visited Auckland late last year. The Argentine Agriculture Minister also visited in 2000, and Chile’s Vice Minister of Agriculture visited this year. Ministers Goff, Sutton, Robson, and Swain have all visited the region this year, and there has been more contact at officials level. A delegation from our Parliament, led by the Speaker, also visited Latin America this year.

We have continued our co-operation with Latin countries on a range of international issues. With Brazil and Mexico we have advanced nuclear disarmament through the New Agenda grouping of nations at the United Nations. We co-ordinated with the Latins on UN reform, and backed Mexico’s and Chile’s UN Security Council aspirations. We have also stepped up co-operation on the environment, through the Valdivia Group, and on Antarctic and Southern Oceans issues. We have expanded our diplomatic relations to include Cuba and El Salvador, both serviced through accreditations from the Embassy in Mexico City .

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A lot was achieved on the people to people front too. This included enabling New Zealand scientists to attend a meeting on Humbolt Current research; academics to attend a Forum for East Asian/Latin American Co-operation; a number of cultural acts from New Zealand to Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, and Colombia; the New Zealand Festival 2002 Artistic Director to visit the region - the result of that visit being a Latin America component for the Festival, with acts from Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. The strategy also sponsored an exhibition of Brazilian Art in Wellington, and the visit of a Mexican potter.

Some members of the Business Council supported these activities, and I thank you for that. We welcome the sense of partnership. We also made progress on increasing access for people - early in the year we signed a working holiday scheme agreement with Chile, and we approved a visa waiver for Mexico which is now in force.

So the backdrop to the visit was a pretty positive one. On the trade side too, we worked with Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, through the Cairns Group to help set the agriculture agenda for the World Trade Organisation’s Doha Development Round. We have opened a dialogue with Mexico on their hosting of APEC in 2002, and we both have high expectations of the 2002 agenda. We could point to a dramatic increase in exports over the year to June 2001. NZ exports to the region increased eighty three per cent to $1.2 billion. Exports to Mexico jumped one hundred and forty four per cent to make it our 16th most important trading partner. All the other countries visited also showed increases - Chile and Argentina up ten per cent, and Brazil up seven per cent. Importantly there were also increases in imports from these countries.

The visit was one of the most challenging I have done. Five countries in 12 days, from one end of the region to another kept us almost constantly on the move. I delivered 27 speeches, and participated in 69 separate events, from meeting with presidents to interaction with indigenous peoples, from discussions with Latin CEOs to meetings with academics, and even discussions on international environmental issues with Sir Peter Blake 1000 miles up the Amazon!

We were received with the greatest possible courtesy and respect in each of the countries visited. There was in the formal meetings and in the informal exchanges, a great willingness on the part of our hosts to engage - on the policy front, and also at the more personal level. I would like to pay tribute to the Latin American Ambassadors, including your Uruguay colleague in Canberra, for your work in making our reception so welcoming. You complemented the excellent work done by our own people in the region.

So what did the visit achieve?

At the political and international level I was able to consolidate relations with leaders and reaffirm the common vision we have for international co-operation. I was able to reaffirm that we share similar principles and perspectives across a whole range of issues. We renewed our commitment to working together in the multilateral arena on key issues - anti-terrorism; disarmament; UN reform; and environment.

I was also able to underline New Zealand’s commitment to deepening and broadening relations with Latin America as set out in the strategy. The opening of the Embassy in Brazil was the most tangible demonstration of that. Our strategic approach to the region, and the effort we are making, was warmly welcomed in all capitals. I believe that this will have a pay off as we seek to advance our interests in such areas as market access, sanitary and phytosanitary co-operation, and double taxation and investment issues.

On the economic and trade side the presence of a group of CEOs helped promote New Zealand as an advanced and hi-tech economy; emphasizing agri-technology; biotechnology; IT; niche manufacturing and services; education; tourism; and food processing. I took the opportunity in speeches before business audiences to emphasise the effort our government is making to broaden our skills base and to network us into the international economy. Many Latin countries are in a similar position and there are opportunities for commercial link-ups which would be mutually rewarding.

We were able to consolidate the New Zealand ‘brand’ through media exposure, and before audiences - officials, students, business groups, and universities. This was particularly so in Sao Paulo where a large reception was held which had a strong New Zealand theme, supported by a small photographic exhibition, a showing of the Lord of the Rings trailer, and a performance by the Maori cultural delegation. Again in Sao Paulo at a function to promote tourism and education, an excellent tourism video and a performance by the Maori group created tremendous interest. For New Zealand to have made the front pages of all Brazil’s leading newspapers was an outstanding way to launch the Embassy. The Maori group presence also in Mexico, Argentina, and Chile added a sense of uniqueness which stimulated interest and I believe set New Zealand apart. Trade New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand now have something tangible to build on.

It was useful too to demonstrate to our hosts the degree of co-operation between government and business in New Zealand. We took a New Zealand Incorporated approach. This is helpful in a region like Latin America because it adds to the confidence of business contacts in the region when dealing with New Zealand.

We were able to establish linkages with senior business figures and key organisations in each of the countries. These contacts I hope will be exploited in the future to increase the network of business contacts with Latin America.

The excellent briefings the CEO group, officials, and I received gave us all a deeper understanding of economic developments in the region, and also of the cultural and bureaucratic environment which makes doing business in Latin America a challenge. The key message seemed to be, ‘do your homework’, as there are complexities and complications not encountered in the New Zealand business scene.

On the trade policy side we were able to take heart with our Latin colleagues on the outcome of the Doha Development Round. John Wood joined the delegation directly from Doha, and it was useful to share our perceptions of the outcome. We had of course worked hard with our Cairns Group colleagues to get a good outcome on agriculture. We were pleased with the result. We agreed that this was only the beginning, and that Cairns Group solidarity would be needed to ensure that agriculture received adequate attention in the negotiations.

The short Chile visit gave me the chance to discuss with President Lagos the possibility of the mooted closer economic partnership with Chile. I have had several discussions with him on this, including during his visit to New Zealand last year, and most lately at the APEC meeting in Shanghai. As many of you will know, the Chile authorities are sensitive to the views of the Chile dairy sector, which is against further liberalisation of trade in dairy products. This has delayed progress. The congressional elections in Chile in December have also constrained the Chile response.

When Jim Sutton visited Chile in July and met with his counterpart, Agriculture Minister Jaime Campos, Chile proposed a programme of New Zealand/Chile co-operation in key primary industry sectors such as dairy, horticulture, forestry, fisheries and primary industry management. Mr Sutton has established a dialogue with industry to gauge interest. We will be meeting with the Chile side next year to see where we can get to.

The visit also had some good people to people outcomes. We signed a visa waiver agreement with Brazil, and working holiday schemes with Argentina and Uruguay. Mexico and Brazil also agreed to enter discussions on working holiday schemes. Educational links with the region were strengthened with the University of Otago signing agreements with universities in Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Argentina.

Links between Maori and indigenous communities in Mexico, Chile and Brazil were initiated or consolidated. The Maori group, which included the kaumatua who conducted the Hiki Tapu ceremony in Brasilia, a small number of performers, and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Maori Language Commission, met with indigenous officials and communities in a series of moving meetings. This has added a unique thread to our relations in these countries. The group also contributed to the wider cultural exchange, with performances at all New Zealand functions including the tourism and education event and the establishment of the Chile-New Zealand Cultural Foundation.

One interesting by-product of the visit was the weekend stopover in the Amazon with Sir Peter Blake. We flew to the capital of Amazonus, Manaus, and then up the Rio Negro to Barcelos, where we joined the ‘Seamaster’. A short journey downstream brought us into a pristine branch of the river. It was a great privilege to be shown a small corner of the enormous Amazonian basin and to see some of the wildlife that abounds there. We saw fresh water dolphin, noisy and colourful bird life and, in the evening, the caiman, a local species of alligator.

Sir Peter Blake, through Blakexpeditions, with assistance from UNEP and Omega, is bringing the world’s attention to some key environmental areas of the globe. The Seamaster was in the Antarctic for the southern summer, and is now nearing the end of a period in the Amazon. The Amazon basin, which holds ten per cent of the world’s plant and animal species, and acts as ‘the lungs of the planet’, is under threat from development. Sir Peter is bringing attention to this vulnerable resource, and the impact it has on the global climate and environment. I strongly support his efforts and those of his colleagues to bring a deeper understanding of the global environment to governments and people around the globe. After all, it is in all our interests.

My visit was the most important ever by a New Zealand Prime Minister to Latin America. It was the first time a New Zealand Prime Minister has officially visited Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. The challenge now, in the aftermath of the visit, is to keep up the momentum generated.

The Latin American Strategy has been in force for fifteen months. This is a good point to take stock of what has been achieved, and what should we be aiming to do over the next couple of years.

Many of you were consulted during the formation of our strategic vision. Your business breakfast tomorrow provides an opportunity for feedback on how we are going, and where we, as New Zealand Incorporated, can do better.

The CEO group which accompanied me plans to hold a delegation seminar in February to discuss and sharpen up the focus of the Latin America Strategy. I would welcome any input you might provide to the seminar through your executive committee member, Neil Sayer, who was on the delegation.

I look forward to your suggestions for the future, including on how the Business Council can capitalise on my visit. This Council has a fundamental role to play, especially in the interaction between business and the government on matters impacting on relations with Latin America. Government often finds it a challenge to conduct a dialogue with individuals or small groups - the resources are not always there. A strong business body, like the Council, can provide a co-ordinated point of contact, and add real value to government policy.

I welcome the Council’s initiative in setting up this opportunity to talk about Latin America. I hope my visit, and this meeting, will strengthen the New Zealand Incorporated approach to expanding relations with the region. I think all of us are aware of the enormous opportunities in Latin America; government and business need now to work side by side to seize those opportunities.

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