Jacinda Ardern looking to grow economic ties with US

Pushing to expand New Zealand's economic relationship with the US was at the forefront of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's interview with the US Chamber of Commerce this morning.

Ardern spoke of the current environment "only further reinforcing why it is so important for us to deepen our relationship". 

"New Zealand’s relationship with the United States is already one I consider to be strong," Ardern said. 

"We have strong historic links to one another... We have strong economic links, over $12 billion in two way trade, and we have strong cultural people-to-people links.

"The question for me is how can we continue to learn from one another? How can we continue to work together? Covid has added additional reasons of why we need to move quickly in the deepening of that relationship."

Ardern spoke about enabling New Zealand to "further embed strong ties" with the US "into our economic architecture" over the next few years.

"We’re really looking for opportunities to build those economic ties when it comes to the US," she said later in the interview. 

It comes as New Zealand attempts to diversify its trade away from its heavy reliance on China. New Zealand's trade in the year to December 2020 with China was more than double than its trade with the US. 

The Prime Minister's emphasis on strengthening economic ties also comes after a comment from Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta about New Zealand being "uncomfortable" expanding the Five Eyes remit on messaging. The fallout saw international news outlets covering the comments, with the UK Telegraph accusing New Zealand of pushing aside Five Eyes "to pursue closer ties with China".

She was asked today about the comments on Five Eyes and if New Zealand's reluctance was due to the threat of economic backlash. 

Ardern reiterated wanting to use a broader platform than just that of the Five Eyes members to speak out on issues.  

"We will raise issues of human rights issues," Ardern said, adding she had brought up the treatment of Uyghur Muslins to China Government leadership before. 

In November, China issued a warning to "beware of their eyes being poked and blinded" after New Zealand along with its Five Eyes partners — Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States — issued a statement reiterating "serious concern regarding China’s imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong". 

Ardern was asked about the tension in the US and China relationship and she said it was positive there had been recent face-to-face dialogue between the two nations. 

"Whilst we’ve had longstanding economic ties, longstanding people-to-people ties with China, we like to also think we have a mature relationship."

During the interview, Ardern also spoke of the early decisions made by the Government around the Covid-19 response. 

"What people weren’t talking about so much was the option of elimination... In my view, the worst possible result from that would be we end up in perhaps a suppression regime, so why not try and raise the bar of our response if we were able to."