Inaugural Foreign Policy Speech to Diplomatic Corps

Foreign Affairs

I’m pleased to welcome you today to Waitangi, the recognised birthplace of Aotearoa New Zealand, where in just a few days we will be acknowledging 180 years of treaty partnership between the indigenous Maori inhabitants and the British settlers who arrived here.

The strengths and achievement of New Zealand have been born out of the richness of diversity represented in that partnership, by all of us working together to create the country we are today.

The principles of partnership and mutual respect embodied in the Treaty provide the foundation for how New Zealand conducts its foreign policy today.

The past year has been unprecedented for us all impacting in very different ways including the Diplomatic Corps as we try to comprehend the challenges presented by the global pandemic.

Our respective nations have been caught in the same storm and we have looked to each other and drawn from our experiences to help navigate our way through.

We are not there yet.

But we do know that only by working together will we hope to beat COVID-19.

This year our continued vigilance is required as we continue to work through our response.

We continue to learn that collaboration, agility, care, communication and acting for the common good is absolutely necessary.

Te Tiriti and foreign policy

I am reminded that the expectation imbued in our founding document sets out the framework between the Crown and Māori for mana (respect and authority) to be recognised and kawanatanga (governance) to be exercised in a manner that would affirm tino rangatiratanga (sovereign authority) so that all people can prosper.

The principles of partnership and mutual respect embodied in the Treaty provide the foundation for how New Zealand can conduct its foreign policy.

Our Treaty experience has taught lessons about managing and creating enduring relationships. Embracing differing world views can assist to address the complex issues of social exclusion, civil and racial unrest, inequity and poverty.

The pathway to finding solutions in the international domain can be rocky, just as reconciliation here has had its challenges, twists and turns.

We understand that a societal culture based on shared understanding, the blending of different perspectives, diversity of thought and actions taken towards nation-building are important building blocks for peace and prosperity.

The same is true, I believe, for diplomacy.

Outcomes will be stronger and more enduring if they are built through dialogue, shared understanding, and taking account of a range of diverse perspectives.

Aotearoa New Zealand’s identity is drawn from our Polynesian heritage. I call it “tirohanga Maori”, or a Māori world view, with its vibrant culture and deep affinity with the natural world.

Then there are the Western institutions on which our country is founded that aligns New Zealand internationally.

As New Zealand has grown to understand its unique and independent identity, so too has our sense of responsibility. We can offer a mature approach to dialogue aimed at progressing regional and global priorities, which is, born from a cultural perspective.

It is my intention to take a values-based approach to foreign policy and work collectively in pursuit of our core interests, which include:

  • an international rules based order, which gives all countries a voice and provides frameworks that promote stability;
  • keeping New Zealanders safe, promoting regional stability;
  • international conditions and connections that aid our prosperity, including supply chain resilience; and,
  • global action on sustainability issues such as climate change where solutions depend on international cooperation.

Upholding special responsibilities in the Realm and Antarctica are also core elements of our foreign policy.

We are in Te Pēwhairangi – the Bay of Islands – the place where the signing of New Zealand’s first international treaty occurred.

It confirms our enduring commitment to the importance of international rules and institutions.

Kororareka – Russell reminds us that it was a staging post for some of New Zealand’s earliest international trade relations were formed.

We each have our own story but the institutions, rules, trade conditions and relationships form the foundation of our foreign policy.

A Values Based Approach – Aotearoa-New Zealand

As the first indigenous woman to lead this portfolio, I believe we have a prime opportunity to call on the bi-cultural values that have characterised who we are.

Values such as:

  • manaaki – kindness or the reciprocity of goodwill;
  • whanaunga – our connectedness or shared sense of humanity;
  • mahi tahi and kotahitanga – collective benefits and shared aspiration; and,
  • kaitiaki – protectors and stewards of our intergenerational wellbeing.

Each of these values when expressed in a relationship gives a sense that everything is connected and purposeful. What the world needs now is a commitment towards empathy, sustainability, and intergenerational solutions for wellbeing.

New Zealand will be a predictable and reliable partner. When I refer to being predictable I also mean that you will see New Zealand applying the values that reflect who we are as a nation.

These include the way we consider international development assistance as a means to be a responsible neighbour, offer help when needed and act as a strategic partner to co-invest and build long term resilience in partner countries.

It also means that as we champion human rights, we also seek to extend our advocacy towards sustainable and inclusive outcomes in trade, inclusive and transparent democracy, ethical investment and social inclusion.

When I reflect on climate change – what our Prime Minister has referred to as the ‘nuclear issue of our generation’ – it means we make solid progress so the next generation feel the benefit of the actions we take to leave the planet a better place than what we inherited, to inspire hope that it is possible to make a difference.

Our experience means that we can advocate with certainty for the recognition and inclusion of indigenous knowledge and economic participation. This will help to address issues of social exclusion, poverty and inequity.

Importantly, indigenous perspectives are linked to the broader objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals, which provide a strong platform to initiate action that will create long-lasting impact.

So you see, our lived experience, our values, our deep conviction of what we stand for as a nation means that we will stand for what we believe is in our interest, unafraid to hold our course when the tide turns to navigate towards our destination.

The Pacific

Aotearoa has historical, cultural, social, linguistic and kin connections across the Pacific all of which links us to the significant diaspora communities here. We refer to the Blue Pacific Continent as Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa.

Our Pacific reset policy is an important commitment.

I’m clear that our relationships across the Pacific acknowledges the inherent mana of each country. I want this to be reflected in the way we partner and engage in the long term resilience of Pacific nations.

By building on the values of whanaungatanga (kinship), kotahitanga (common purpose) and kaitiakitanga (stewardship and care) we can promote investment, advocacy, and co-partnering the long term resilience of the Pacific.

The significant economic impacts of COVID-19 in the Pacific amplifies the climate change threat and the prospect of significant social and economic dislocation. Ensuring a robust delivery pipeline for a vaccination roll-out will be the first challenge we confront in this new era of whanaungatanga and manaaki.

For those who seek to partner in the Pacific we need a renewed commitment and effort to recharge our approach to support the security and prosperity of the region.

I will promote an approach that will work to build on Pacific peoples’ own capabilities.

Co-partnering and co-investing for resilience – deploying new ways of working, including improving technology, fostering science, research, innovation and private sector collaboration, and strengthening governance.

This approach means that here in New Zealand we engage more deliberately with Pacific communities to ensure that they are connected and contribute to resilience projects.

The survival of home languages, education and skills development, delivering in-country infrastructure, and workforce development are opportunities for an integrated effort.

International institutions and rules

New Zealand relies upon international organisations and global rules to voice our views on important issues.

Since Peter Fraser and the founding of the United Nations, we have worked alongside those who share our enduring democratic values and our fundamental interest in a rules-based order that reflects those values – to build a more liberal and inclusive world.   

The challenge of climate change makes our constructive engagement with those who share our aspirations more important than ever.

We have been an active member and remain committed to its laws and institutions; the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the bodies upholding the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), international climate change agreements and international human rights treaties, among others. 

At a regional level, we support the efforts of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). 

New Zealand will lean into these organisations and work hard to foster collaboration. Leaning into the international rules-based order means pulling our weight – doing our bit. 

With our values as a compass, we will work through international organisations towards goals that we have long championed. 

These include: a commitment to human rights, democracy, the international rule of law, and nuclear disarmament; removing barriers to trade and investment to raise incomes, create employment, and promote innovation, increase productivity; tackle inequality and injustice through our development programme and our advocacy.

I believe there is cause for optimism internationally. We have seen what can be achieved when we work together to find global solutions to global problems.

Several vaccines developed to combat COVID-19 has occurred with haste and without precedent. Countries have come together to create the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility to ensure guaranteed and equitable access.  

Global initiatives are accelerated when all of the great powers participate and cooperate.

New Zealand welcomes the recent announcements from President Biden that the United States will take a science-based approach to combating the challenge of COVID-19, re-committing to the WHO.  

Also, the signals being sent by re-joining the Paris Agreement and renewing its commitment to enhancing the role of the WTO will help to reset our shared ambition in supporting international institutions and upholding a rules based system.

International trade

New Zealand is and has always been a trading nation. 

Today our commitment to free trade and open markets is reflected in our chairing this year of APEC. Through APEC we will lead work to build regional resilience through the sustainable expansion of trade; and supporting our exporters to make the transition to a low-carbon economy.

We will work with APEC economies to facilitate trade in a list of environmental goods and services and explore the new opportunities offered by digital trade. We are also keen to develop an indigenous trade cooperation instrument with willing APEC partners.

A rules-based trade system is central as we work through our COVID-19 response. Trade delivers more jobs, better wages, and drives innovation and productivity. Our outward looking focus means that we continue to seek out opportunity in this challenging environment.

In November, New Zealand signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement. Encompassing 15 economies and home to almost a third of the world’s population, this agreement will take over half of New Zealand’s exports. RCEP is estimated to add $186 billion to the world economy, and increase New Zealand’s GDP by around $2 billion once fully implemented.

Just last week, New Zealand and China signed an upgrade to our bilateral free trade agreement. Our bilateral FTA has been a platform for closer trade and economic cooperation, with two-way trade now at $32 billion.

We are continuing negotiations on new trade architecture – including FTAs with the European Union and the United Kingdom – New Zealand’s third and sixth largest export markets respectively.

These agreements will build relationships and bring opportunities for our exporters to rebound more strongly from the challenges they have faced over the past year, as well as helping to reinforce the international supply chains that have proved so essential in responding to COVID-19.

New Zealand last year signed the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) with Chile and Singapore; and is currently negotiating an Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability, (ACCTS).

The latter is a practical example of using trade rules to drive positive outcomes for the environment through the reform of fossil fuel subsidies and to lower the cost of environmental goods and services.  Both of these agreements are open to all WTO members to join.


Underpinning all of our efforts are Relationships, Relationships, Relationships – he tangata te mea nui.

These are the building blocks for our international connections.

The trans-Tasman relationship is critical for New Zealand’s prosperity and security.  Australia is our only formal ally and an indispensable partner across the breadth of our international interests.  

The Pacific shapes New Zealand’s identity and influences our security, prosperity and strategic environment. Mature and robust relationships with Pacific countries are essential to progressing our interests. Promoting agreed Pacific priorities is vital (COVAX) to New Zealand

New Zealand has a deep stake in the wider Indo-Pacific region’s stability. We share the common ambition of Peace and Prosperity for the region, including through greater economic integration, and adherence to its institutions and norms.

The ten ASEAN countries, Japan, Korea, and India are all important relationships for New Zealand. We have much in common and will continue to invest effort with them.   

Our relationship with the United States is an integral defence and security partner and our third largest individual trading relationship. New Zealand’s relationship with the United States will continue to strengthen.  

China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner and an important relationship.  We seek a mature relationship where both parties have realistic expectations of each other, as we look for opportunities to work together where we are able to. 

Canada is a strong friend, we share common values and objectives for the sort of world we want to operate within. I am encouraged by the positive signals in our relationship to progress indigenous collaboration and intend to see the strength of this commitment grow.

Our relationships in Europe are longstanding based shared interests in upholding the rule of law, promoting human rights and democracy and working together to address some of the most serious issues facing the world, including on the environment and climate change. Our relationship with the United Kingdom is historic and enduring.

By concluding our ambitious, comprehensive free trade agreements with both the United Kingdom and the European Union our commitment to both these relationships will be strengthened. 

Reflecting New Zealand’s significant commitment to engaging across a diverse range of relationships, we will also continue to invest in our relationships across Latin American and the Caribbean.

Our effort to progress partnerships in the Middle East is a signal of how we value growing opportunities in the region.  I’m also personally keen to put more effort into our relationships across Africa, where I believe there is great scope for mutually beneficial partnerships centred on political, trade and economic interests. 

As I expressed earlier, I want to deepen the opportunity that our country-to-country relationships can help forge with indigenous peoples. Committing to a National Plan of Action for the Implementation of UNDRIP is a part of that approach.

It has previously been difficult to bring indigenous relationships to the fore.

I believe the time has come to ensure a more inclusive approach to indigenous issues being a feature of foreign policy. This will see economic, social, environmental and cultural benefits to countries willing to step up to this opportunity. We must be deliberate on this front otherwise civil unrest, poverty and social deprivation are likely to emerge – it does not have to be this way.

We will nurture our relationships with like-minded partners who share our values. We will work with small and medium sized countries to bring a collective voice into international forums and form strategic positions on issues that define the type of global community we want to see.

As Foreign Minister, I’m looking for mature relationships, acting on the values that define who New Zealanders are and creating space to, at times, agree to disagree on fundamental principles.

As an Indigenous Foreign Minister however, I believe that diplomacy is intergenerational in its intent, where we put people, planet, peace and prosperity for all at the centre. This approach sits at the core of my ambition to lead a different approach.

In closing, as our tūpuna (ancestors), navigated their passage here through South East Asia and across the Pacific.

Those ancestors used the stars, maramataka (Māori calendar) currents and wind as navigational tools to traverse the oceans.

They relied on an ancient body of knowledge, innovation and skill to remain agile and attuned to the natural world.

Sometime later they met our European ancestors who had found their way to these remote isles with similar levels of courage, bravery, and navigational aids. Our Western forebears introduced new knowledge, technology, language, beliefs and institutions to settle and survive in our country.

Today in an increasingly interdependent world much has changed. We are experiencing a global pandemic. Closed borders has changed the way we undertake diplomacy, digital platforms have taken the place of ‘kanohi ki te kanohi’ or face to face diplomacy. That is why it is important to reinforce at every level in actions and words, the values that define who we are.

Our values act as fixed markers to guide our way towards the peaceful and prosperous future we seek.

These worldviews and aspirations vested in the Treaty of Waitangi attempted to bring together a shared aspiration for our country bringing together knowledge, respect, understanding and innovation to shape the nation we want to be. We have had many challenges but we keep moving forward.

There is no better metaphor for where we are as a nation than the modern aerodynamic Team New Zealand waka, Te Rehutai. Bringing together the proud maritime legacy of two cultures – this indicates that together we have the capacity to move forward with confidence.

No reira kua pari ngā tai, kua timu ngā tai, he tai ope, he tai roa e kūmea mai nei i te tai nui kia eke panuku, eke tangaroa, Haumi e! Hui e! Taiki e!