Opening remarks to Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee by Dr Brook Barrington, Chief Executive, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 9 February 2017.

Mr Chairman

Good morning.  Thank you for the opportunity to make some opening remarks on the Ministry’s work programme during 2015/16.

Can I first congratulate you and all other new members of the Committee as you take up your new roles.  New Zealand’s typically bipartisan approach to foreign policy is something to be prized.

Mr Chairman

New Zealand’s foreign policy is built on four central pillars:

  • Support for a rules-based international system which reflects our national values, and which delivers all countries the same rights and obligations regardless of size, location or power,

  • Membership in international and regional architecture, as a way to reinforce the rules-based system and amplify our influence,

  • A network of strong bilateral relationships underpinned by our reputation for being a fair-minded people, which we can leverage in the pursuit of shared interest, and

  • The diversification of our trade, as a way to underpin our prosperity and insulate New Zealand from the vagaries of the international economy.

These four pillars, which support the advancement of New Zealand’s international interests in times both certain and uncertain, have their foundations at home.  We derive strength and international resilience from being a cohesive society, and an open and successful economy, underpinned by robust institutions.

Mr Chairman, it is within this framework that I would like now to turn to the work of the Ministry over the 2015/16 period, and then to offer some thoughts for the year ahead.

Over the past year, New Zealand continued as a member of the United Nations Security Council to reinforce the contribution made by the UN to international rules and architecture.

The conflict in Syria was a pressing concern.  We led Council action in support of humanitarian action on the ground, and made Syria the central focus of New Zealand’s Presidency of the Council in September.

Another issue on which New Zealand was active was the Middle East Peace Process.  We made it clear over the year that the Council needed to address this issue, and it finally did, almost as we were exiting the Council.

New Zealand’s determined and independent efforts on the Council, led personally by the Minister of Foreign Affairs; the professional and measured way we went about our business; and our focus on trying to make a positive and concrete difference to international peace and security, reflected New Zealand’s national values and character.  In my assessment, we made the most of our time on the Council.

I should also mention the Ministry’s support of Helen Clark’s campaign for UN Secretary General which, while not successful, reflected well on the candidate and further raised New Zealand’s profile on the world stage.

Mr Chairman

As global wealth and power shift eastwards, the Asia-Pacific is becoming that part of the world where the balance between our economic and security interests require the most accurate calibration.  It is, above all, where New Zealand must be a participant and not a spectator.

Over the past year, New Zealand formally reinforced the architecture of its relationships with ASEAN by elevating the NZ-ASEAN relationship to a Strategic Partnership.  We also concluded negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership as another piece of regional architecture which offered New Zealand (and the other participants) a range of economic and strategic benefits.

Although TPP in its original form has been overtaken, New Zealand continues to see merit in those economic and strategic benefits, and we will be exploring with other TPP partners how best to advance our interests.

I should add, Mr Chair, that the Ministry also continued its efforts to reinforce rules and architecture in the global commons and closer to home.

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change was agreed in 2015, setting a new global emissions reduction target.  The Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area, co-sponsored by New Zealand and the US, was agreed after more than 10 years of hard work.  The Pacific Energy Conference in Auckland in June, co-hosted by New Zealand and the EU, generated close to a billion dollars in international commitments to sustainable energy solutions for the region.  And we continued to support the nations of the Pacific, and their commercial partners, to reinforce the sustainability and profitability of regional fisheries stocks.

Mr Chair, I would like to turn briefly to the last two pillars:  Strong bilateral relationships, and the diversification of trade. 

We are in the fortunate position of having our nearest neighbour as our closest friend, and we continued to make good progress in deepening the Single Economic Market and strengthening people-to-people links, including by securing a pathway to citizenship for many of the New Zealanders living in Australia.

Our longstanding friendship with the US was demonstrated by the visit of the USS Sampson last year and its contribution to the post-Kaikoura earthquake response.  Our engagement with China remained broad-based and strong, sustained by high-level visits and the launch of negotiations to upgrade our bilateral free trade agreement.  Our relationship with Korea was reinforced by the entry into force of a bilateral FTA in December 2015, which sees over two-thirds of New Zealand exports to Korea now entering duty free.

In similar vein, New Zealand’s close relationship with the countries of the EU saw the conclusion of the NZ/EU Partnership Agreement and strong progress towards the launch of NZ/EU FTA negotiations.  Reflecting the growing importance of relations between New Zealand and the Gulf Cooperation Council we continued to make progress with the NZ/GCC free trade agreement.  We also advanced our negotiations with regional partners for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.  And we both established a Trade Policy Dialogue with the UK and signalled our intent to conclude a bilateral free trade agreement when the UK is in a position to do so, post-Brexit.

Mr Chair, I have deliberately cast my remarks this morning — and the achievements of the Ministry — within a strategic framework which has successfully shaped the content and pursuit of New Zealand’s broader international interests over many years, in all sorts of circumstances. 

A strong, open and prosperous New Zealand.  A resilient international rules-based system, consonant with our values.  Regional and international architecture which amplifies our voice and influence.  A range of bilateral partners with whom we can make common cause.  And the diversification of our trade, based on the negotiation of high quality trade agreements which provide resilience at home and insulation abroad. 

Within that framework, New Zealand has pursued and will continue to pursue, a coherent international agenda. 

Finally, Mr Chair.  I am proud to lead an organisation made up of talented people who believe passionately in public service and who strive in often challenging circumstances to achieve the best for New Zealand.  The successes of the Ministry are down to them.  It is a privilege to lead them.  I alone am accountable for any shortcomings.

Thank you.