March 18, 2013


New Zealand as a US Partner in the Pacific? (Edward Mortimer, 18 March 2013, ISN Blog)

The US has the most to gain from re-engagement with New Zealand. China, among other Asian powers, is actively courting the South Pacific island states and the US is now responding in kind. Last August, Hillary Clinton became the first Secretary of State to attend the Pacific Islands Forum, giving the clearest indication so far that Washington views the South Pacific as an important part of its strategic re-orientation. Stronger ties with New Zealand fall directly under this strategy. However, a closer relationship is also useful in a broader sense.

New Zealand has long had close political, economic and cultural links with the South Pacific island states. It is actively involved in development and governance programs in the region and two states - the Cook Islands and Niue - are in free association arrangements. The US hopes that strategic engagement with New Zealand will encourage Wellington to advocate a more pro-US line in its dealings with South Pacific states.

Yet New Zealand's interests nevertheless differ from the United States. While it has a stake in regional stability, its location shields it from Asia's strategic rivalries. Its need for strategic partnerships and defense guarantees is less than many US allies. This has allowed New Zealand to build a more independent foreign policy which Wellington views as an asset.

Limited defense cooperation complements its greater interest of incorporating the US into regional, particularly economic, initiatives. Trade is an important component of this strategy and John Key's National Government is prioritizing this issue in 2013. While it would likely accept a US-New Zealand bilateral trade deal, Wellington's first choice is to get the US into a regional free trade area, potentially by the end of this year. The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would build on the current multilateral free trade association including New Zealand and a handful of Asia-Pacific countries. The US is in negotiations to join and New Zealand has shown considerable enthusiasm for bringing Washington on board. It is also hoped that US membership of the TPP will give New Zealand greater access to the world's largest economy.

Wellington knows that brokering the US' membership of the TPP will be a difficult task given that successive US administrations have faced significant domestic opposition in negotiating free trade agreements. New Zealand, along with other potential TPP states, needs to react positively to the US pivot so that free trade agreements can be 'sold' to the US public and, crucially, Congress. Wellington's current rapprochement is part of this wider effort.
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Posted by at March 18, 2013 4:59 AM

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