Speech to the Latin America New Zealand Business Council

Foreign Affairs


E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā karangatanga maha, tēnā koutou.

Kei ngā iti, kei ngā rahi e tāpiri atu nei ki tēnei ō ngā taumata.

Nau mai, Buenos Aires, Bogota rē, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

Buenas tardes, boa tarde.

Thank you to the Latin America New Zealand Business Council for the really kind invitation to speak today. 

I am really pleased to have the opportunity to speak about Aotearoa New Zealand’s connections with this vibrant region.

I would like to start by acknowledging our shared COVID-19 context, but particularly the huge health and economic impacts of the pandemic in the Latin American region. 

We are keenly aware that the huge loss of life, overwhelmed public health services, and economic vulnerability has been a common experience in many countries and for many people – some of you with family and friends and business contacts in Latin America will have been experiencing that first-hand.

And like across the globe, the pandemic has also disrupted the vibrant people-to-people connections between here and Latin America. During this unique period some of our diplomats have had to carry out their work remotely from New Zealand. We hope to get them back in the region as soon as we possibly can.

Despite the many challenges brought by COVID-19, our relationship with Latin America remains strong, and for very good reasons.

Aotearoa New Zealand and Latin America have deep links through our Indigenous peoples. My people hold stories of the kumara which was brought to the shores of Aotearoa New Zealand by a female ancestor, from Tainui, called Whakaotirangi from Parinuiterā - a place we are told is somewhere in South America.

Kumara means sweet potato not only in Te Reo Māori, but also in the indigenous Quechua and Aymara languages spoken in the Andes, and it is similarly named in Rapa Nui – the easternmost part of Polynesia.

For me, this is a clear demonstration of our whanaungatanga, or our connectedness or shared sense of purpose and commonality. I saw this whanaungatanga first hand when I visited Chile in 2019 as Minister of Māori Development, and it offers significant opportunity to continue to guide our work and our relationships in the region.

Since taking on the role of Foreign Minister, I have spoken of how I want to see New Zealand’s independent approach to foreign policy characterised by the bi-cultural values that are unique to us in Aotearoa New Zealand.

This includes whanaungatanga, but also:

  • manaakitanga – kindness or the reciprocity of goodwill;
  • mahi tahi and kotahitanga – working for a collective benefit and shared aspiration; and of course,
  • kaitiakitanga – our common stewardship and intergenerational wellbeing of the natural environment.

By building on these values and working towards common goals with Latin America, we can promote investment, trade, research and innovation while growing deeper, more meaningful relationships.

As you will know, Aotearoa New Zealand is a strong supporter of a multilateral approach to contemporary global issues. We like to build coalitions of countries to tackle collective challenges, promote human rights and good governance, and come up with creative compromises.

Due to our shared values and common interests, Latin American countries are some of our strongest likeminded partners in many multilateral and regional fora.

In Aotearoa New Zealand we refer to the Blue Pacific Continent as Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa. Many Latin American countries share this Pacific Continent with us, and as such, share our commitment to its kaitiakitanga or responsible stewardship. We work closely together to uphold the international frameworks which govern the oceans and its resources.

New Zealand also shares a strong bond with Latin America on Antarctic issues. Argentina, Chile and New Zealand are three of the five “Gateway” states that act as launching points for other Antarctic Treaty Parties and their national Antarctic programmes to access Antarctica. We are committed to the maintenance of the Antarctic Treaty System and are working collaboratively within the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources on the establishment of a network of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean. 

We also work with our partners in Latin America to tackle the climate crisis. In particular, through the UNFCCC. New Zealand shares challenges measuring, reducing and mitigating the impact of agricultural carbon emissions with the large agricultural countries in Latin America – and we can work together to ensure good international climate policy on these issues.   

For over a decade, we have also partnered with countries in Latin America through the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases.  As the largest net food export region in the world, Latin America’s capacity to produce food sustainably is crucial. And the region has consistently shown leadership in driving practical, collaborative and innovative solutions.

We also engage with Latin American countries through the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation, which links the East Asian and Latin American regions, playing an important role in enhancing regional partnership, cooperation and dialogue.

Of course I can’t speak to a business audience such as this without touching on the trade and economic relationship with the region.

There is no ignoring the fact that the economies of Latin America have been hit hard by COVID-19. Aotearoa New Zealand’s economy has also been heavily impacted by COVID-19. Latin America can have an important role to play in New Zealand’s recovery.

We know that some businesses have managed to do very well despite the pandemic. The NZTE team in Latin America has observed a trend of increasing business interest in Latin America over recent years. The team is currently working with 148 New Zealand companies, 74 of which have selected markets in Latin America as a particular focus for their global business development, up from 46 companies pre-pandemic. These companies now have a much more diverse trading base, including fintech, retail tech, energy and resources solutions, and even disposable nappies.

Our trade volumes with Latin America have traditionally been modest, but New Zealand companies have significant and growing investments in the region. Fisher and Paykel Healthcare’s two plants in Mexico employ around 2000 people, and the company is still expanding with plans to open a third factory in 2023.

We know that we have yet to take full advantage of the trade and business opportunities the region has to offer. The population of the Latin America/Caribbean region is just short of that of ASEAN, yet in terms of GDP Latin America is notably higher than total ASEAN GDP. Latin America therefore represents a significant diversification opportunity for New Zealand businesses. 

We are pursuing this diversification through our work on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (the CPTPP), free trade agreement negotiations with the Pacific Alliance, and through Mercosur trade and economic dialogue, but I know that more opportunities still exist.

The second pillar of the Government’s Trade Recovery Strategy, launched in June 2020, is reinvigorating international trade architecture.

In the lead-up to the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference New Zealand is working with Latin American countries to advocate for WTO reform and meaningful agricultural trade and production distorting subsidy reform.

APEC has served as a critical point of connection for New Zealand and Latin America for over decades – opening doors for our free trade agreements and our close relationship with the Pacific Alliance. We have been working with Chile, Mexico and Peru in recent years in support of more work inside APEC on women’s economic empowerment and initiatives to support Indigenous economies.

Many of our Latin American partners share our ambition to develop new ideas and norms in trade policy areas that are important to New Zealand, including inclusive trade and sustainable development.

Earlier this month, Mexico became the newest member of the Inclusive Trade Action Group and a signatory of the Global Trade and Gender Arrangement, which aims to promote women’s involvement in trade as part of broader efforts to promote women’s economic empowerment.

Chile is also a key partner for New Zealand in the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement and will become a full Party to the Agreement in November.

Costa Rica is one of our negotiating partners for the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability. Our aim for this first-of-its-kind agreement is to bring together some of the inter-related elements of the climate change, trade and sustainable development agendas.

I would like to finish on a Māori proverb, a whakatauki: “Kaua e rangiruatia te hāpai o te hoe; e kore tō tātou waka e ū ki uta”. This translates to: “Do not lift the paddle out of unison or our canoe will never reach the shore”. By continuing to work together, New Zealand and our Latin American partners can help each other to tackle the challenges we are facing.

I look forward to discussing this further as I respond to some of your questions.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.