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Former PMs aim for closer US-NZ links

Dominion Post, Wellington

Former PMs aim for closer US-NZ links

4 April 2006


A delegation of New Zealand political and business leaders is heading for the United States to forge closer links between the countries, despite fading hopes of a free trade deal in the short term.

Two former prime ministers, Jim Bolger and Mike Moore, will co-chair the two-day meeting in Washington on April 20 with a high-ranking grouping of American counterparts.

Former US Agriculture Secretary Clayton Yeutter and former senator George Mitchell, chairman of Disney Corporation, will lead for the US.

Mr Bolger said the meeting went beyond a possible free trade agreement with the US. "Instead of waiting around, we’re saying yes, ultimately we want an FTA, but in the short term let’s get on with business."

Stephen Jacobi, executive director of the New Zealand-United States Council, which organised the meeting, said issues likely to be raised would be investment opportunities, security, energy, joint venture options and World Trade Organisation talks. "This group represents one of the most significant business-government delegations to have gone offshore for a long time."

Trade Minister Phil Goff and Immigration Minister David Cunliffe will represent the New Zealand Government. Businesses attending include Air New Zealand, Anzco Foods, Fonterra, Jade Corporation, NZ Post, Solid Energy and PPCS.

Other companies with US interests, including Deloitte, Trends Publishing and Assignment Group, will also be part of the delegation.

The National Party will be represented by Tim Groser, a former New Zealand World Trade Ambassador, and foreign affairs spokesman Murray McCully. National Party leader Don Brash will include a speech to the forum as part of his programme for a two-week visit to Washington, London and Beijing.

Representatives from the Council of Trade Unions, Business New Zealand, the Chambers of Commerce, academics and five heads of government departments and other industry groups will also be at the meeting.

The US list of attendees is yet to be finalised, but includes Commerce Undersecretary Frank Lavin and Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill.

Philip Turner, Fonterra director of strategy, government and trade, said Fonterra supported the NZ-US Council and closer economic links with the US. "We’ve been working with them (the council) for some time to organise a meeting with the objective to try to build stronger relationships at senior levels of business and government."

Fonterra exports about $1 billion of goods to the US each year and has a number of operations in the US, including a joint venture with Dairy Farmers of America.

"The US is the world’s No 1 economy. It’s a huge source of investment and it matters to the New Zealand economy across the board," Mr Turner said.

Delegates would also look at opportunities for growth and co-operation in the Asia Pacific region, including China. New Zealand has recently completed a sixth round of trade talks with China.