FADTC 2020/21 Estimates Hearing for Vote Foreign Affairs and Trade, 4 June 2020

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

Opening remarks by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rt Hon Winston Peters

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the global environment. 

That necessarily has an impact on how we conduct our foreign and trade policy, and where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade focuses its effort over the next 12-18 months.

As a trading nation we depend on stability, predictability and cooperative solutions to global problems. That means a rules-based environment with institutions that provide a level playing field for all nations, large and small.

Even before COVID-19 the world was changing; we were seeing heightened levels of strategic tension and new levels of disruption and risk.

COVID-19 has accelerated these trends.

We are facing a world that will be less open, less prosperous, less secure and, as a result, less free.

Diplomacy will be critical to protecting New Zealand’s interests and values in this new global operating environment.

Despite the changes we see around us globally, our interests remain steady and enduring:

  • A rules-based internationalorder that supports New Zealand’s priorities;
  • A security environment that keeps New Zealand people and activities safe;
  • International conditionsand connections that enable New Zealanders to prosper; and 
  • Global action on sustainability issues that matter to New Zealand.

We will also need to continue to work hard to reinforce our ongoing support for liberal democratic values and liberal economic norms.

Within this context, the Ministry has developed a foreign policy re‑engagement strategy that sets out a pathway for New Zealand’s foreign policy in the early phase of the recovery from COVID-19.

The Strategy is about limiting the impacts of COVID-19 in the short term, and supporting New Zealand’s recovery and our wellbeing over the longer term.

And this is what we are doing.

We can be cautiously optimistic that New Zealand is well placed to emerge earlier and stronger from this crisis because of our strong fiscal position and balance sheet, our positive “brand” on the international stage, and low proportion of COVID‑19 cases.

But we are in no doubt about the scale of the challenge before us in responding to COVID-19.

The Ministry has been working since February to maintain and sustain New Zealand’s global network of posts offshore.  

Since planning began for the first evacuation flight from Wuhan in late January, MFAT has been working around the clock in New Zealand and in posts across the globe to provide consular services, keep air links open for essential freight, and provide information on a daily basis about over 100 countries across the globe.

This last point is important: MFAT’s diplomatic reporting has played a key role in enabling the Government to do the right thing at home by learning from international experience. MFAT has helped us understand what measures others were taking, what is working to flatten the curve and what isn’t.

Within days of the lockdown, the Ministry helped stand up a cross-agency supply chains team to keep trade in medical supplies and food flowing.

The Ministry also moved swiftly to lead, with Singapore, a pledge to resist protectionism – this process now involves eleven Trade Ministers, including Canada, Australia.

Our commitment to helping Kiwis offshore – either to shelter in place or return home wherever possible – has led to the largest consular response ever undertaken by MFAT.

The numbers involved have been massive: since the crisis began, MFAT’s Wellington Consular Call Centre has received over 11,000 enquiries; and provided consular support or advice to close to 5,000 New Zealanders in about 150 countries and territories.

In addition the Prime Minister and I received almost 1400 requests from New Zealanders seeking assistance offshore; the Ministry has responded with consular assistance to around 1200 of those individual requests.

At the same time, we encouraged New Zealanders to return home, and around 80,000 New Zealanders answered that call – many thousands assisted by MFAT.

We could not bring everyone home. But where we could not, we continue to help them shelter safely where they are.

We have also facilitated almost 50,000 foreign nationals to depart New Zealand during the Level 4 lockdown and Level 3 restrictions.

Foreign Policy Re-engagement and Trade Recovery

Looking ahead, trade will be a critical enabler of New Zealand’s own recovery from the global impact of COVID-19; so too will our independent foreign policy, our values and key relationships. 

It won’t be easy. We will face strong headwinds as nationalism and protectionism become more pervasive and entrenched; and we will have to navigate New Zealand’s future amidst a forecast global recession more significant than the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

But the Ministry has wasted no time and has already recalibrated its direction of effort for the next 12-18 months to do this – its foreign policy and trade recovery plan focuses on the following seven priorities:

  1. Export recovery: Fighting increasing protectionism; retooling support for exporters; Concluding and launching new FTAs, as well as realising the benefits of existing trade deals to build export sector resilience; 
  2. Reinforcing New Zealand’s Pacific Reset strategic approach: We will continue to be a strong and active partner in the Pacific, providing our Pacific partners with quality support and investment that builds the region’s prosperity, stability and security, and is responsive to the needs of our Pacific neighbours.
  3. Providing Consular support for New Zealanders offshore and supporting the diplomatic corps resident here to support its foreign nationals in New Zealand.
  4. Maintaining and restoring international connections: Keeping our supply lines for exports and imports open; pursuing possible reciprocal border opening arrangements with other “early emergers” – starting with a safe travel zone with Australia when it is safe to do so.
  5. Building Indo-Pacific regional resilience: Chairing a successful APEC and Supporting the East Asia Summit and the integrating role of ASEAN – promoting cooperation over protectionism with some of our most significant trading partners.
  6. Supporting the global system’s response to the crisis: investing in global efforts to make a COVID-19 vaccine widely accessible. Importantly, this will also include work to assist the procurement of any potential vaccine for New Zealanders.

The Ministry is doing everything it can to position New Zealand for a quick recovery but the fact is the global landscape will be different; COVID-19 is a global shock – and the new reality will challenge how New Zealand engages in the world.

We’re preparing for that, through our diplomacy now, at all levels – from the Prime Minister down to the MFAT desk officer; we are positioning ourselves to leverage opportunities when they appear and we’re creating our own opportunities.

It’s about being clear about what we stand for, what our independent foreign policy means and harnessing the collective NZ Inc. capability will be more important than ever in a climate of global uncertainty.

We are well-placed through investment made in relationships and institutions in the Pacific; key relationships and regional institutions in the Indo-Pacific region; innovations in international trade architecture; and ODA support.

New Zealand has strong democratic institutions and values, and adherence to the rule of law; we have enduring foreign policy interests; we are committed to equality, inclusivity and accountability.  These characteristics are central to our international brand and have underpinned much of our global economic and diplomatic success. 

It is going to be a big year ahead for MFAT as it tackles the global environment defined by COVID-19.

In a world that is less open, less prosperous, less secure, the Ministry will need to continue its investment into strong coalitions of countries open to protecting and championing the same norms and values as New Zealand.

We believe MFAT is up for the challenge, and ready to continue acting in the world to make New Zealanders safer and more prosperous. 


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