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The Nation: US Ambassador Scott Brown

On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd interviews US Ambassador Scott Brown

Well it's been a riveting political week in America.

An impeachment inquiry launched by the Democrats into President Donald Trump's actions.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on the world stage at the UN.

And of course her first face to face meeting with the US President.

US Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown helped arrange the meeting, so I asked him what was said.


Scott Brown: Well, certainly it was a great meeting. I think the Prime Minister after her meeting with the President— Picture this, I want your viewers to, kind of, picture this, so you’re expecting to have a meeting with the President. So in comes the President, and then in comes the Vice President, and then in comes the Secretary of State, the new National Security Advisor, the President’s Chief of Staff and other folks who work for the State Department. Not only do I know what happened, I was getting briefs from our contact within that — right after it was over. And it was, by all accounts, a superior, superior meeting.

Simon Shepherd: Right. What was said though?

Well, what was said, obviously, as was disclosed — they talked about, obviously, the gun buyback programme. The President had an interest in that. He also had some comments about the earthquakes and exporting some of your technology to the United States and vice versa, so preparedness on that. The FTA, quite frankly, was the most important thing. It’s a free trade agreement that I’ve been working on since I got here. Winston Peters visited in December and July. He spoke to the Vice President at length. She, obviously, brought it up, and good on her for doing so.

Okay. Is there any progress or positive noises?

Of course there’s progress. Don’t forget we just did the KIWI Act, which was the priority. That’s been done. It’s fully implemented.

Which allow businessmen to have—

Five-year visas, they have investment trader visa opportunities in and out of this country into the United States and from the US and here. It’s moving very, very well. Implemented in record time. We also have TIFA talks, that’s Trade Investment Framework Agreements. We’ve had those. They’re actually happening again in October, where either your team’s going to DC or vice versa to lay out the framework for the free trade agreement talks. So, yes, absolutely moving forward.

You say it was a superior meeting. What do you mean by that? Just because of the range of personnel or?

Yeah. I mean, I’ve never seen that before — to have that type of contact, cos not every country had that. Don’t forget there were over a hundred world leaders there, and what? Six or seven countries had one-on-ones with the President.

Sure. The range of people, but was it just happenstance or just opportunity—

No, no.

Were they there on purpose or did they just happen to be with the President?

No, it was on purpose. It was on purpose.

And why was it on purpose?

Well, because we’re working on some very important things, and New Zealand’s a Five Eyes partner. It plays a very important role in that relationship. What New Zealand’s doing on the Pacific reset, pushing back against some things that are happening here, what they’re doing and trying to do on climate, what they’re doing with the gun buyback. The relationship is—

Why is the President interested in the gun buyback? Guns aren’t really a priority for the President, are they?

Why do you say that? Any time a person is killed in America or around the world— Don’t forget, he was one of the first ones to call the Prime Minister. I can tell you for a fact that my office, within seconds, our FBI was working with your people to make sure that— ‘Was there something else happening? Was there something else next?’ And we’ve been working on it, and we’ll continue to work on it— So are you talking that the President is interested in gun reform in the United States? Well, she said, and I won’t add anything to it, that he seemed very interested in that.

The style of the two leaders — I mean, their speeches at the United Nations were, sort of, opposite, really. President Trump talked about patriotism. She talked about globalism. So does that make for an awkward meeting, though, cos it’s sort of two worlds apart there?

No, you saw the after-effects of the meeting. The Prime Minister spoke very eloquently about that relationship, saying that he clearly cares about New Zealand. He was very engaged in what’s happening in New Zealand, and I would just look at the facts. Forget about the personalities. I was the first ambassador in this region. I’ve been here for 2.4 years. I was the second guy out the door. The President chose to send me here for a reason. Your viewers may not know, we’ve been here since the Treaty of Waitangi signing. So we’re not new. We’re long and strong friends.

But you’ve got a renewed emphasis on the Pacific. Is that because of the change in the global order at the moment?

Well, we’ve always been here.

A renewed emphasis.

Well, I think everybody has a renewed emphasis because there’s a renewed emphasis with new partners who want to come in, and we’re obviously talking about China.

We’re talking about China, yeah.

China is not an enemy. They are a competitor, and they’ve got to play by the rules, and they’re not.

Well, I just want to talk about what the UN Secretary General said at the United Nations. He talked about fears of a great fracture — two world powers, two different currencies, two different internets, two different sets of AI. He’s talking about the US and China, here. It’s a pretty grim outlook.

Yeah, I don’t know if I agree with him on that. That’s certainly his opinion, but I’m not seeing any indications of that. You have a country, China — they’re still claiming they’re a developing nation. Clearly they’re not. I mean, they have the second largest military, the second largest economy, they have nuclear weapons, they’re giving away billions and billions of aid, trying to establish the ‘One Belt One Road’ programme. So to think that we need to be separate, I think, is really not fair.

So you’re not trying to pull New Zealand on to one particular side of this?

No, no, no. Listen, no one tells— You know this because you’re a Kiwi, you don’t tell New Zealand what to do. You ask them for help, and we’ve asked, and you’ve asked us for help. We’re there at times of need. That’s how it’s always been.

All right. Look, from the outside it’s been a stunning week in US politics. What is the White House saying to you about the possibility or the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump?

Well, you probably know more about it than me.

But why is that?

Well, you’re a presenter, you’re in the media. I’m not. I’m a diplomat now. I’ve certainly seen what a lot of other folks have seen, and I can say that we have three branches of government, and one of the roles of Congress is to be there as a check and balance and make inquiry if they feel it’s appropriate. That’s what they’re doing in this. And once again— on another thing. This is not the first time they’ve done these things. So they’re doing it again. That’s part of the transparency of our government. It’s all out there for everyone to see, to praise or criticise.

So first of all, I find it hard to believe that you’re not in the know because you do have diplomatic channels. You’ve been in politics for 30 years in the US.

Well, it just happened, what, yesterday. I mean, yesterday-today. It’s nothing new to me. I’ve been in politics, like you said, 30 years. And it is political season back home. So a lot of what you see may have some political overtones. I’m not saying this does, but that’s the beauty of our checks and balance system. You have a process where the House has oversight, and if they feel that there’s something they want to look into, there will be a process — it’ll be open and transparent — it’s a lot different in other countries, by the way.

Sure. I’m not talking about other country’s democratic systems. We’re talking about the United States, here, because it’s such an important player in the world. It’s historic, isn’t it, what’s going on? There’s only been two other impeachment proceedings launched, and Nixon resigned before impeachment proceedings happened.

Well, first of all, we’re not in impeachment proceedings. We’ve just had a whistle-blower complaint which they’re going to verify it and make sure it’s accurate, obviously. It’s so preliminary right now, that to think that, ‘Oh my God. He’s being impeached.’ Quite frankly—

But the Democrats are talking about launching an impeachment inquiry in Congress.

That’s fine. That’s part of the process. They can do whatever they want, and that’s the way it would work — just so your viewers know — you have what you’re seeing now, which is the inquiry where they’ll gather the facts. The judiciary committee within the House will issue articles of impeachment, potentially, they’ll vote on it. It’ll go to the floor, they’ll have conversations, potentially vote on it or not. It’ll go to the Senate, it’ll be up to the majority and to Mitch McConnell, whether he’s even going to bring it forward.

And the Senate, obviously, is controlled by the Republicans, so there’s not much luck of that happening, is it?

It’s the beauty of American politics. It’s a blood sport. Our founding fathers wanted it to be messy. Democracy is messy.

Well, it’s messy at the moment. Would you admit that?

It’s always messy. It’s been messy since the President got involved. It was messy during times of President Obama. When I served in the Senate, it was messy then. Yeah, it’s part of the process.

Isn’t it clear from what you’ve seen so far, that the US administration, Donald Trump, has tried to get a foreign leader to investigate a domestic opponent and influence—

Yeah, I don’t have any knowledge on that based on what I’ve read and what I’m seeing. No, I don’t have enough information to make that, and, with respect, I don’t think it’s clear at all.

Okay. You know the President. Do you think he’s worried?

I know the President is one of the hardest-working men that I’ve ever met. We have so many things that are happening of a positive nature. I tell people to divorce themselves from the personalities of any politician and just look at the facts, and the facts speak very loudly that it’s a very successful term.

In terms of your priorities in the job, how are you navigating the US-New Zealand relationship? What’s your priority?

I would argue that it’s the best it’s ever been in quite a few years, based on what we’re doing. The new space agency that New Zealand has, I think that’s the biggest upside, economically, for New Zealand. There’s so many business opportunities with the KIWI Act. That’s a massive influx of business in and out of our country. So my priority is jobs — job creation, wealth creation for both of our countries.

Well, from New Zealand’s perspective, let’s talk about trade, then, and I want to talk about what you said on the programme last time you were here. The US still imposes steel tariffs on New Zealand. We’re after an exemption, and last time on the show you said, ‘If it takes me making a phone call to the President at the appropriate time, I’ll do it.’

I did more than that, actually. I was in the Oval Office —was it — back in July and asked him specifically about that.

And?

And it’s something that is a global problem right now, and there’s still a process in place for countries like New Zealand and other smaller countries that have very little steel or aluminium opportunities for China or other countries to go through the backdoor. That being said, to quote the Prime Minister, or paraphrase the Prime Minister — or was it the Deputy Prime Minister — we’re focusing on larger fish right now. If we do a free trade agreement, that stuff will be all barreled up. We’ve kind of gone a little bit past that, and we’re focusing on the big fish, which is the FTA.

Right. So there’s not going to be an exemption, is there, for any of those—

No, no, no, I didn’t say that. These things take time. Obviously, the KIWI Act took 20 years. Do I think it’s going to take 20 years to get this exemption done? No. Do I think focusing on the China trade issues right now, and also the Canadian-Mexico deal that they did, and don’t forget — we did South Korea, we’re doing Japan. So they’re working, but the bandwidth within USTR is a little limited.

USTR? US Trade Relations?

US Trade— Yes.

So we’re not a high priority.

Well, I would argue the fact that you just met with almost half the Cabinet. The Prime Minister meet with half the Cabinet and she brought it up directly to him, and he said he directed— He said that he would be looking— According to him, she said he took it very well. He was very interested in helping.


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