Diplomatic gaffe during Chile trade deal
03 May 2004
A diplomatic gaffe by "jet-lagged" Trade Minister Jim Sutton is thought
unlikely to deter Chile from signing a three-way trade deal with New
Zealand and Singapore next year.
Chile’s president Ricardo Lagos said in Wellington that his Government
is able to concentrate on trade talks with the two countries after
concluding successful agreements with the United States, the European
Union and South Korea.
Mr Lagos acknowledged that "special measures" would have to be taken for
the "sensitive" dairy sector but he was confident a trade deal would be
New Zealand was also confident that the failure today of Mr Sutton to
turn up for the signing of a memorandum of understanding on trade would
not derail relations.
The diplomatic embarrassment took place when Mr Lagos and Prime Minister
Helen Clark were overseeing an agreement signing ceremony in the
Mr Sutton failed to appear when Miss Clark summoned him forward to sign
the co-operation arrangement on agriculture and forestry.
Instead a senior official was rustled up to fill the gap under the gaze
of an unimpressed New Zealand prime minister.
National’s agriculture spokesman, David Carter, said Mr Sutton’s absence
was an "affront to Chile and an embarrassment to New Zealand".
Mr Sutton’s spokeswoman said the "heavily jet-lagged" minister had gone
to his office by mistake.
Mr Sutton has just returned from a visit to China/Hong Kong and South
Africa. His spokeswoman said she doubted the gaffe would derail the
"Mr Sutton has a warm and amiable relationship with Jaime Campos (his
Chilean counterpart). I am sure he apologised for the oversight at lunch
and talks afterwards," the spokeswoman said.
"The document is still valid."
Mr Lagos did not appear concerned by the gaffe and afterwards spoke of
the warm relationship between the two countries and his confidence that
the two countries could build closer ties.
He acknowledged that many Chilean dairy farmers fear they would lose if
New Zealand’s dairy industry could compete equally with them in Chile.
Mr Lagos said Chilean dairy farmers should aspire to be exporters and
needed the help of their New Zealand counterparts to become more
efficient and competitive.
Mr Lagos said Chileans had to realise that New Zealand was closer to
them than the capitals of Europe and had similar aspirations and values.
Mr Lagos, who was imprisoned under the Pinochet regime, is accompanied
on his New Zealand visit by a number of his cabinet ministers, senior
officials and business people.
As well as the agricultural agreement, a co-operation deal on scientific
co-operation was also signed.
Tonight Mr Lagos attends a state dinner before returning to Chile.
He has been to South Africa, Indonesia and Singapore before visiting New
Chile is hosting this year’s Apec meeting in November, which Miss Clark
is intending to attend.
Chile, where trade accounts for 60 per cent of the economy, has been a
leading proponent of bilateral free trade arrangements.
It has signed such pacts with Mexico, Canada, the European Union, South
Korea, European Free Trade Association and the United States.
Chile has a population of around 15 million people.
New Zealand already has a trade deal with Singapore, but it is expected
the three-party pact involving Chile, Singapore and New Zealand may go
beyond removing tariff and non-tariff barriers to include co-operation
in science, technology and human resources training