Speech at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs

  • Rt Hon Winston Peters
Deputy Prime Minister Foreign Affairs

Speech at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs

Stockholm, 9 November 2018


For many of you living here in Sweden it must seem New Zealand is a country at the very end of the earth.  Having just made the flight here you are right !

While New Zealand is about as far from Europe as you can travel this is just a geographic separation. Despite distance we share many similar values and experiences.

And New Zealand’s fate has always been closely tied to that of our friends on this continent.

On Sunday we will attend the Paris Peace Summit, which will mark 100 years since the guns fell silent at the end of the First World War.

This is an anniversary that is rich in significance for New Zealand and for New Zealanders. We paid a heavy price for our participation in both world wars. The losses and suffering we endured at Gallipoli, Passchendaele and elsewhere were deeply traumatic, and helped forge us as a nation. 

Yet despite our distance from these conflicts and the heavy toll they exacted, we never flinched from making this sacrifice. Why?

Because we have never viewed with indifference the clash of values and ideas playing out within Europe and on the wider world stage.

And it is because, despite our location, we have always felt part of this greater world, deeply connected to our European family.

And it’s because, despite our size, we have always felt it to be a responsibility, and indeed a necessity, to participate in the great struggles of our age, and in building and defending the kind of world we want to live in.

Our closest partners in these endeavours have always been our friends and family in Europe. That is as true today as it has ever been.

It is in awareness of this fact that New Zealand has taken the step of opening a resident Embassy here in Stockholm, in order to deepen its links with Sweden and its Nordic neighbours.

But why here? And why now?

To explain that, it might be useful to give you some historical perspective that is probably better known in New Zealand.

New Zealand and the Nordic countries are not strangers. Indeed, travellers from the Nordic region were amongst the first Europeans to reach our shores.

Next year it will be 250 years since Swedish botanist Daniel Solander accompanied Captain James Cook on his famous journey of discovery to New Zealand.

Solander and his Finnish assistant Herman Sporring spent six months in New Zealand in 1769 on board Cook’s ship The Endeavour. During that time he left his mark, both through his contribution to observing and cataloguing New Zealand’s unique flora and fauna and in the Solander Islands named after him off New Zealand's South Island.

This was only the start of the important contribution Nordic travellers and settlers would make in the early years of New Zealand’s colonial history.

Perhaps the most famous example of this are the Scandinavian immigrants who cleared and settled large parts of the lower North Island in the 1860s and 1870s, stamping their imprint on communities – such as ‘Dannevirke’ and ‘Norsewood’ - that bear their name to this day.

New Zealand’s foreign policy also owes a great debt to its Nordic community. Our foreign ministry was in fact established in 1943 by a New Zealander of Swedish descent, Mr Carl Berendsen, who had previously served with distinction as Secretary of External Affairs, Head of the Prime Minister’s Department and Secretary of New Zealand’s WWII War Cabinet.  Berendsen subsequently oversaw the establishment of New Zealand’s first diplomatic missions outside the United Kingdom.

Given how closely aligned New Zealand and its Nordic friends are on most global issues, it is perhaps fitting that it was a Swede who helped New Zealand take our first steps towards establishing our fiercely independent foreign policy of today.

Indeed, there are few countries anywhere in the world that are as close to us in terms of values and how they see the world as Sweden and its Nordic neighbours.

Domestically, we both enjoy high standards of governance, consistently taking out the top spots in international surveys reflecting transparency and the absence of corruption.  

We both lead the world in most global measures of equality, peacefulness, personal freedom and respect for human rights.

We have both been global trailblazers in terms of social justice.

You may know that New Zealand was the first country in the world where women achieved the vote – in 1893. We mark the 125th anniversary of this milestone this year.

Nordic countries have also been global leaders on gender empowerment.  Given the leadership Nordic nations have shown in providing for the poor and vulnerable in their societies, it may interest you to know that New Zealand created the first comprehensive welfare state in the 1930.

Both of us have also applied this values-driven approach on the global stage, often in partnership with each other.

We share similar world views on almost all global issues, including trade, the environment, human rights, disarmament, security and adherence to the international rules based system; of which we are among the strongest supporters of the global rules-based system. We are instinctive and active multilateralists who are unafraid to stand up for what we believe in.

New Zealand and Sweden have been at the forefront of efforts to demand the elimination of nuclear weapons. 

We are both active contributors to international peace and security, including as mediators, regular contributors to peace operations, and as principled participants on the UN Security Council.

Given our close alignment of values and perspectives, it is only natural that we should do more together, both bilaterally and on the global stage.

This was clear to me in 2008 when in my previous term as Minister of Foreign Affairs New Zealand’s first Embassy here in Stockholm was opened – a decision that was unfortunately reversed by the subsequent government as a result of budget cuts.

But events since then have only reinforced further why countries like New Zealand, Sweden and its Nordic neighbours need to be working more closely together.

States like us have much to lose from global instability and the disregard of rules.

In times like these, when multilateralism is under threat, when our values of fairness, equality, and respect for human rights are being increasingly challenged, and when formerly open trading nations are increasingly turning to protectionism, we need to be prepared to fight for our values. 

And we need to deepen our cooperation with friends who share these values.

Tonight is a time to highlight a number of areas where the opening of this Embassy is a demonstration of our shared values.

First, we need to cooperate more closely in asserting our values and tackling key issues on the global stage.

Foremost amongst these is the critical issue of climate change. Both Sweden and NZ have taken the significant step of committing ourselves to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.  

There is much we can learn from each other as we work to meet these ambitious targets, and to encourage others to play their part.

We also want to intensify our cooperation through the Global Research Alliance to seek long term solutions to the challenge of reducing agricultural emissions while increasing production to meet the needs of a growing global population.

There is much we can do together in championing open, rules based trade, both in the WTO and bilaterally.

And we surely all know that the WTO is under serious threat.

At the same time, we want to work with you to promote trade policies that ensure that trade benefits are shared among all members in our societies, and that support our broader social and environmental goals - for example, by imposing disciplines on harmful fossil fuel subsidies.

We also want to explore how we might work more closely together in promoting international peace and security.

The recent cooperation between New Zealand and Sweden - securing back-to-back terms on the UN Security Council - demonstrated what a natural partnership this can be.

We supported Sweden with its campaign and preparations for membership. We were pleased to see Sweden take up many of the issues and initiatives that we had sought to champion. And we have admired the energy, integrity and skill with which Sweden has acquitted itself as a member.

We are also reliable friends and partners to each other in our respective regions.

New Zealand is deeply grateful for the advice and support we have received from Sweden, Denmark and Finland as we seek to strengthen our relations and practical cooperation with the EU.

In turn, New Zealand has much to share from its knowledge of East Asia. We provide a natural partner for those seeking to engage with the region, given our deep integration into regional architecture, including through our extensive network of FTAs with Asia-Pacific countries.

New Zealand also has much to offer in terms of its knowledge and experience in the Pacific.

The Pacific may seem distant, but it is strategically seriously important and increasingly contested space. And it is a region that welcomes the positive and constructive contribution made by its European partners. It is important that this continues.

But it is in our bilateral cooperation that the greatest potential lies.

Given our close alignment of values and perspectives, there is considerable scope for mutually beneficial dialogue and cooperation on domestic policy issues. There is much we can learn from each other in areas such as social policy, climate change, and innovation.

And we are barely scratching the surface of the potential in our trade and investment relationships.

Two-way trade in goods between New Zealand and the Nordics countries amounted to NZ$756 million in 2017. Trade in services was slightly more, at around NZ$868 million for the year ending March 2018.

Our companies are already starting to prospect the opportunities.

H&M have two outlets in NZ and counting; and New Zealanders would welcome the arrival of an Ikea store.

In Sweden, System Bolaget stores stock some very fine New Zealand wines.

This is a start. But we can do better.

There is considerable scope for growth both in traditional areas, such as machinery, cars and agricultural products, as well as in new areas such as the digital economy, agri-tech and in the services sector, notably IT, health, tourism, education and public procurement.

This isn’t just about lifting trade volumes; it is about forging mutually beneficial partnerships, drawing on our respective strengths.

Sweden and its Nordic neighbours are also amongst the most innovative and technologically advanced countries in the world. As a region, you represent one of the largest investors in industrial research and development in the world.

We are enthusiastic partners with you in these endeavours. Technology is New Zealand’s fastest-growing sector and our highest earning industry per capita.

There are numerous examples where collaboration between New Zealand and Nordic companies are already succeeding.

Swedish company ABB is paving the way for the electrification of our vehicle fleet by setting up a network of electronic car charging points throughout New Zealand.

Norwegian company Tomra’s recent purchase of New Zealand company Compac has taken Compact’s advanced post-harvest fruit sorting technology to the world, massively improving efficiency and reducing waste for a global customer base.

Many of you may have heard of New Zealand dairy company Fonterra, one of the world’s largest diary exporters. But few of you will know that Volvo supply 92% of Fonterra’s fleet milk collection trucks – with Scania providing the remaining 8%.

Given our complimentary economies, such links can only grow.  

New Zealand boasts one of the best business environments in the world, having been consistently ranked number one in the world for ease of doing business by the World Bank, as well as second in annual prosperity index and third in the economic freedom index.

This year Sweden knocked us from the top spot for ease of doing business, and it’s also first to our second on the Global Sustainable Competitiveness Index – further evidence of just how alike we are and what natural and valuable partners we make.

New Zealand also offers opportunities in the fast-growing economies of the Asia Pacific through our extensive network of high quality FTAs in the region.

We were the first developed country in the world to sign a Free-Trade Agreement with China in 2008 and the only country with trade agreements with China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The recently adopted Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement also provides access to eleven of the region’s most dynamic and prosperous economies.

An EU-NZ FTA would be an important step towards unlocking the potential in our trade and economic relationships with Sweden and with the EU as a whole. We are very grateful for the strong support we have received from Sweden, Denmark and Finland to date.

Now that negotiations are finally under way, we hope we can move quickly to conclude a comprehensive and high quality agreement without delay. This agreement also provides an opportunity to demonstrate what can be achieved between two partners committed to progressive and inclusive trade policies.

It is fitting that the reopening of the New Zealand Embassy in Stockholm should coincide with the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the first Swedes in New Zealand.

In opening this Embassy, we both celebrate our deep and enduring ties and begin charting a new course for our future partnership.

This partnership should and will be firmly grounded in our shared values and worldview.  There should be no limit to what we might seek to achieve - together.

On behalf of the New Zealand coalition government we look forward to you all connecting with Ambassador Jenks and his team in the coming weeks to share ideas and experiences.  And that soon we will see the benefits of our revived partnership. 

Personally, I have longed believed that wise governments in cold climates create great economies. Sweden and the Nordic countries are evidence of that. In cold climates mistakes are hugely costly. And that caution clearly shapes political thinking here.

And finally, to all who have asked whether New Zealand regrets its earlier decision to close its diplomatic presence here in Stockholm, my answer to is this: yes; in the words of that great Abba song,

“I’ve been broken hearted. Blue since the day we parted. Why, why did we ever let you go?”

That’s what we asked ourselves and explains why we are here tonight.