PM’s Chatham House

Prime Minister

Director Sir Robin Niblett, distinguished guests.

What an honour it is to be back in London, and to be here at Chatham house. This visit represents much for me.

The reopening of borders and resumption of travel after a difficult few years.

The chance to bring life to the UK FTA which we concluded from a distance.

And a reconnection to the place I once called home.

I was one of many, many New Zealanders who spent several years working in the UK as part of what we colloquially call, an “OE” or overseas experience. It was 2006, and my most immediate job in New Zealand before departing for the UK, was in one of your Presidents place of work, the fantastic Helen Clark.

That eventually led me here, to a job in the Cabinet Office. It was a brief but memorable experience, working in the better regulation executive that was established by Tony Blair. I was there for the transition in leadership to Gordon Brown, and worked on projects as varied as Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s review of policing in England and Wales through to pieces of work designed to simplify the advice government gave business on regulation.

For some of my family, it appears my time in the UK may in fact be the high point of my career. At least you would think so from the flurry of texts messages last week from cousins and aunties to tell me that the question “which world leader worked for Tony Blair” appeared on The Chase.

And so it is that these streets, Whitehall, and all of the excitement that comes with it feels very familiar to me.

But the world it now operates within, increasingly does not.

Here at Chatham House, I note that your mission is “to help governments and societies build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world”.

I am proud to associate Aotearoa New Zealand with that goal. But it is a goal that is increasingly under strain.

Today I want to talk about the challenges that we all face in the current environment. But as a pragmatist, and at heart an optimist, I want to talk about what we can do about it.

Afterall, we are not powerless, but a concerted collective effort is now required.

It’s time to pull, on our own terms, in the same direction.

This is not a concept that is new to us in Aotearoa. As a small island nation at the bottom of the world, we have long recognised our inter dependencies on one another. In fact, lessons in that principle are peppered through each generation

I was born in the 1980s. My father missed my first birthday because he was policing what is known in New Zealand simply as the Springbok tour. Those two words capture a period in our history where families were sometimes severed in two by those who believed that in the midst of apartheid in South Africa, we should show solidarity by cancelling the tour of their national rugby team through New Zealand, and those who thought politics and sport were entirely separate propositions. The tour went ahead and the protests were as significant as they were memorable, and remain a defining feature in our history.

A mere four years later and New Zealand found itself in the height of debate and protest activity centred on nuclear weapons as the pacific was used as a site for testing. The Rainbow Warrior, a protest vessel used by Greenpeace was bombed in Auckland harbour killing a photographer. New Zealand went onto declare itself proudly nuclear free with legislation to support that status in 1987. 

By the time i reached high school in the 1990s, there was a new debate on the agenda. There was a hole in the ozone layer, and it sat above us in Aotearoa New Zealand. It was a result of an increasing use of chlorofluorocarbons - a product frequently used globally in likes of aerosols, and one that was literally making us burn. 

And now, the next generation in New Zealand, their lessons will be derived from a pandemic, war, and a rapidly warming earth. But the message is the same.

We are, and have always been, inextricably linked to the actions of others. As a small island trading nation, we have always known this, and borne the brunt of that principle. And the consequence of that, is a very particular approach to foreign policy.

We are fiercely independent but we also look outwards. We actively seek relationships with those who share our values, whilst never losing sight of the importance of dialogue with those who don’t.

And in central to these themes in our mind, is the increasing importance of our multilateral institutions. But these too have been challenged.

The war in Ukraine has thrown much into disarray. Our sense of peace and stability. The maintenance of a rules based order. The principle of territorial sovereignty. And that is why it is a conflict that impacts deeply on Europe, but also on all of us.

Now was a time when we needed the United Nations to be able to move swiftly in condemnation of what was a blatant disregard for established international principles. But it could not.

New Zealand’s principle of taking a multilateral approach to foreign policy, extends to the way in which we enact sanctions. For this reason, we do not have an autonomous sanctions regime - until Russia’s war. We moved swiftly to enact a targeted regime of sanctions in condemnation of the war. We have provided both non-lethal aid through the NATO trust fund, and lethal aid working alongside the UK. We have sent our c130 and a logistical team to support the movement of aid in Europe, and we presently have members of the New Zealand army here in the UK training the Ukrainian army in specialised light artillery use.

The fact that much of New Zealand’s assistance is being delivered with, or indeed in, the United Kingdom, speaks to our commonality of outlook, our bedrock of trust and the ease we find in working together.

It also recognises the significant leadership role that the United Kingdom has played in supporting Ukraine to defend itself which I want to acknowledge.

Some may ask though what a war in Europe has to do with a small pacific nation. The answer, is everything.

It is a direct affront to all of us, which is why autonomous sanctions regime or not, we must continue to seek reform of the United Nations to ensure it maintains its ability to move, react and respond swiftly to issues of such global magnitude and importance.

I would make the same argument for the need for us to work collectively on the tools of both the world health organisation, and the world trade organisation.

By their nature, for instance, pandemics require global responses. That’s why New Zealand is actively engaged in negotiations at the World Health Organization on a new legal instrument, to ensure we are better prepared to respond to the next pandemic.

We must work together, with speed and ambition, to improve the resilience of our global health system. It is in all our interests to cooperate to provide equitable access to pandemic tools like vaccines, testing and therapeutics in a timely way.

On WTO reform, I was heartened that Members of the World Trade Organisation were able to agree to a suite of emergency response of measures including a TRIPS waiver on Covid Vaccines, and I would like to thank the UK for its role in this outcome.

But we must take this spirit of consensus and action to reform and strengthen the WTO itself and see through the commitment from Ministers to restore a fully-functioning dispute settlement system by 2024.

But it is not just trade institutions that must remain responsive to the current challenges and environment, so too must our trade instruments themselves.

New Zealand is a trading nation. You may know us for our wine, dairy and beef (and if you don’t, you should) but we are increasingly known for our digital services and even, our activity in space.

It’s in our interest to expand our trading relationships, and in the UK recently, we have. In fact an important part of my visit here has been to celebrate the gold-standard free trade agreement we have signed with the United Kingdom.

But these relationships are not just about boosting our economies.

When too many doors are closing on free trade; when public confidence in the impact of free trade is low; when supply-chain issues are on the rise; free trade agreements like the one we have finalised with the UK stand out like a beacon.

They show that protectionism is not inevitable.

They set high precedents for subsequent agreements.

They show that trade can work harder across society, whether in championing small and medium enterprises, or the participation of indigenous people and women in trade.

They show that global challenges such as biodiversity, and climate change, can not only be amplified in trade agreements, they can be used to strengthen expectations and bring us closer to our shared goals.

They show what is possible when progressive and open societies work together.

And they are building blocks for larger agreements.

In trade, there is no more salient agreement than the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, making up 13.5% of global GDP and which currently provides access to markets with a combined population of 480 million people.

With this in mind, New Zealand sees CPTPP’s objectives as more important than ever, with CPTPP membership well placed to help drive post-COVID-19 trade recovery through open and inclusive trade, and we warmly welcome the UK’s progress towards accession.

To have the world’s fifth-largest economy - a country committed to the rule of law and to an ambitious trade policy - join would make a strong contribution to CPTPP and the continued prosperity of the region.

Here I want to add a little extra emphasis on that last statement. The prosperity of the region.

New Zealand is a pacific nation, with a strong connection to our wider indo pacific region.

In recent times, there has been growing interest in the Pacific. That interest is understandable. While nations like New Zealand, i would like to think, have had a fairly predictable approach to foreign policy, the foreign policy position of some of the significant members of our region has changed.

The order that has brought the region prosperity over the past eighty years is contested.

The rule of law is challenged in the South China Sea where we are seeing the construction of artificial islands, militarisation and actions that pose risks to the freedom of navigation and overflight and which are at odds with UNCLOS.

Overlaying this is the impact of Covid-19, posing great challenges for governments and confining the space they have to manage the region’s growing challenges.

These things are now sharply true for the Pacific.

China, our number one trading partner, a country we have had diplomatic relations with since 1970s, has become increasingly assertive in our region.

Let me be clear, the relationships between China and others in the pacific region is not new.  China has been a partner in aid and development projects in our region for many years - and it would be wrong for us to call out their mere presence when we welcome engagement on the pacific regions terms from others.

But it’s the nature of any of these engagements that matter.

Ensuring that the region can determine its own priorities.

That the Pacific and indeed the Pacific Island Forum as the primary organising body is the place for discussing and determining regional security needs.

That our collective political systems remain sovereign.

And that we all have the ability to speak freely on matters that concern us, free from coercion.

These are principles that in New Zealand, we are country neutral on. They will hold true no matter who turns their mind to our region.

But they should not be confused with a desire for isolation. We cannot afford that.

Our engagement with a range of partners must continue, but under the banner of principles we can all agree on. And with an absolute focus on peace, stability, transparency and dialogue.

And so, just as we welcome the UK’s accession to CPTPP, we have strongly welcomed its wider “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific. 

Of course, you never left the Indo Pacific. But your deliberate effort to increase your presence across the domains of diplomacy, defence, development and trade is welcome.

And we look forward to an ever-deepening relationship in the South Pacific context.  The United Kingdom’s historic connections and long-standing relationships in aid and development are all important as the region seeks to become more resilient against the challenges it faces.

And while it might be the fact that our region is contested that is focusing the minds of our European and American partners, that cannot be the basis of relationships in the region. They must be on their own terms, and priorities.

And in the pacific there is no greater priority than climate change.

Climate change is a significant long-term security and development issue for Pacific Island countries and territories. It that threatens all aspects of their way of life, and puts their very existence at risk. It is already causing irreversible loss and damage.

The UK’s leadership on climate change shown at last year’s COP and the way in which this is demonstrated in your climate finance matters enormously to our region given the man small islands and low-lying coastlines in mainland Asia.

Effective climate finance can make a difference. We want to work with the UK to lift our ambition and magnify the impact of our funding – so we can better support Pacific Island countries to build resilience in the face of the climate crisis.

And so, I finish where I began. And that is with our connection.

When it comes to our two countries, that connection is literal.

Kiwis come here to experience life in a country that feels both warmly familiar but also interestingly different.

I know the thousands of young Britons who go to New Zealand every year get to enjoy the same thing.

That experience – finding comfort in familiarity while navigating small differences – also captures our experience as two nations.

We are separated by distance, and differ in scale, landscape, cultural nuance, in our richly multicultural but quite different population bases, and of course in the length of our vowels.

Yet family, bonds of friendship, sport, deep historical connections and an unyielding attachment to democracy and the rule of law, all help collapse the distance and the differences.

And so no, more than ever, we need to pull in the same direction.

We must work together on the reform agendas that strengthen our most valuable multilateral institutions to ensure their relevance in these troubled times.

We must push for trade that exemplifies the values of progressive liberal democracies and to show our populations that these agendas can serve their needs in a way that protectionism can’t.

We must build and maintain relationships, understand the priorities of others, but speak out openly on our own.

And in a time of heated diplomacy, we must act on fact not assumption.

Between us, we must pull, on our own terms, in the same direction.

New Zealand has long recognised the need for such an approach. My hope ultimately, is that the next generation see fewer examples that underscore just how dangerously linked we are, to instead see how positively we are. That through collective efforts we can resolve some of the most fraught challenges of our time. I remain, forever, the optimist.

Waiho i te toipoto, kaua i toiroa/Let us keep close together not far apart.