Prime Minister: Opening address at US-NZ Partnership ForumPrime Minister
Forum Co-Chairs. Ambassadors. Ladies and gentlemen.
Kia ora and good morning.
It’s great to be here and to welcome you to the fantastic city that I grew up in.
I’d particularly like to welcome our US guests and thank you for travelling to join us for this forum.
It’s always great to have our friends from across the Pacific paying a visit and I know that some of you travel here regularly.
As you will know, Christchurch and the wider Canterbury region were shaken by a powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake six months ago.
While we are very lucky that no one lost their life, there was a lot of damage to homes and businesses, and unsettling aftershocks have continued.
Rebuilding is underway and Christchurch is very much open for business.
For our US visitors I hope you have the chance to get out and experience some of what Christchurch has to offer while you are here.
I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the support offered by the US following the earthquake, and also in response to the Pike River Mine tragedy last year.
We sincerely appreciate your support and the offers of help.
It is humbling to know that our friends are so willing to help New Zealand in times of tragedy.
Today I’d like to cover three main topics: our relationship with the US, our work together to face global security challenges, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Our relationship with the US is very important to us.
Our shared history has moulded us into democracies with similar outlooks and intertwined cultures and economies.
I had the opportunity to visit Washington last April.
I joined President Obama and some 40 other leaders at the Nuclear Security Summit.
I also had a very good meeting with Vice-President Joe Biden.
And I had the pleasure of appointing John Mullen as an Honorary Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
The US-New Zealand relationship is in the best shape it has been in for a long time.
This was reiterated during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to New Zealand late last year.
As highlighted in the Wellington Declaration, which was signed during Secretary Clinton’s visit, now is the time for our two countries to actively pursue new opportunities and initiatives together.
Our policy makers are in regular contact with each other, working together and coordinating our efforts on issues such as nuclear security, climate change, peace in the Middle East and development assistance.
New Zealand strongly values its close and open working relationship with the US.
There are many exciting opportunities we are pursuing as a result of the Wellington Declaration and the positive state of the US-New Zealand relationship.
I am committed to progressing this relationship.
One global issue that has been high on the agenda for the last decade is addressing the threat of terrorism.
International terrorism remains a real threat to New Zealand and US interests.
Addressing global security challenges, such as terrorism, is a key part of New Zealand’s foreign policy.
New Zealand troops continue to work with their US and international colleagues in Afghanistan.
We have been there since the beginning of the ISAF mission in 2001.
This Government decided earlier this month to extend the deployment of the New Zealand Special Air Service to Afghanistan.
The SAS unit has made an excellent contribution in mentoring the Afghan Crisis Response Unit.
Since the SAS has been in Kabul we have seen a marked increase in the ability of the Afghan security forces to deal with insurgents and other threats – and a corresponding improvement in the security situation.
Our decision to extend the deployment by a further year ensures the CRU is trained to a high standard as an effective counter-terrorist force.
New Zealand’s major commitment in Afghanistan is the leadership of the Provisional Reconstruction Team in Bamyan province.
New Zealand soldiers, police and diplomats share a base with military and civilian personnel from the US.
I visited Afghanistan last year, and saw for myself the excellent work our troops are doing over there.
It was clear to me that together our people are making a difference.
Through our joint efforts, and with support from our ISAF partners, Bamyan is now in an advanced state of transition, with the aim of having Afghan authorities assume full responsibility for security.
This has not been an easy mission in a volatile environment high up in the Hindu Kush.
It has been a long, dangerous and, sadly, deadly assignment for the New Zealand military.
It was with great sadness that last week we learned of the death of a New Zealand Army solider, Private Kirifi Mila, as a result of a motor vehicle accident near Bamyan.
Although not a combat death, it was a stark reminder of the dangerous and difficult conditions under which our soldiers are working.
Our objective now is to complete the transition process in Bamyan, to the point that we can hand over full responsibility to local Afghan authorities.
We’re also committed to the economic development of the province and stable governance.
Our military contributions to Afghanistan represent a significant commitment for a country like New Zealand.
While it’s had a major impact on the resources of the New Zealand Defence Force, this country continues to meet its responsibilities to collective security efforts.
In our own region we are working with the US and other regional partners to address broader security and transnational crime challenges.
Issues such as transportation security and the illicit movement of people and weapons demand our close attention.
Our economic relationship with the US is also very important.
The US is New Zealand’s third-largest trading partner.
Two-way trade between our countries was worth more than NZ$7.5 billion last year.
The US is a major market for our export products, both agricultural and industrial, and a major source of imported commodities and inputs to production in NZ.
It’s also our second-largest source of foreign investment and third-largest tourism market.
And, at the same time, it’s our second-largest destination for overseas investment, and our third-most favoured destination for New Zealanders on short trips overseas.
Our economies are closely linked.
As we recover from the economic downturn, it’s vital that both of our countries support international trade, including through negotiation of free trade agreements.
A major focus is, of course, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
I have a strong personal interest in this negotiation.
TPP will have a significant impact on the way business is done in our region.
It will support greater integration and provide a platform for economic recovery and future growth.
President Obama’s speech in Tokyo in 2009 on the importance of regional economic integration, and the announcement of his Administration’s support for TPP, was a major milestone.
Since then, interest in the agreement has grown quickly.
Prime Minister Kan of Japan approached me at a regional meeting in Ha Noi last October to learn more about the agreement.
The idea that Japan is seriously considering joining the TPP is very encouraging.
In November last year President Obama again put his weight behind the TPP by convening a summit with all nine TPP leaders, and Japan, at our APEC meeting in Yokohama.
We all agreed on the need for a swift conclusion to negotiations.
Our objective now is to make substantial progress by the next APEC leaders’ meeting in Hawaii this November.
This is a highly ambitious timetable for what is a tough negotiation, but New Zealand is fully behind it.
We need to keep up the momentum and make a regional free trade bloc a reality.
Trade and business facilitation aspects of TPP will, of course, have an effect on the bilateral economic relationship between New Zealand and the US.
For this reason I am sure there will be plenty of discussion on TPP over the next two days at this forum.
This trade deal is crucial for New Zealand’s future because the US is such an important trading partner for us.
As with all trade negotiations, we will all need to make some difficult decisions.
I know that the prospect of liberalisation has made some sectors in the US anxious.
New Zealand will also be facing requests, including from the US, which we have not confronted in previous FTAs.
When facing such challenges it is important that we all remind ourselves of the overall collective benefits in getting TPP right, of which there are many.
I would like to thank all members of the US-New Zealand Council for sharing this vision and actively supporting TPP.
Looking ahead at future regional and global challenges, there is no doubt that New Zealand’s future lies in working closer with our friends from the US.
Your being here today is another great step forward for our relationship.
I wish you all the best for the forum.