PM heads to US on trade mission, Biden meeting not yet scheduled

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The Prime Minister will leave for a trade mission to the United States this evening, but a visit to the White House has not yet been scheduled.

Jacinda Ardern.
Photo: SWIMMING POOL/ NZME

The trip was organized around Jacinda Ardern’s invitation to speak at Harvard’s Beginning, and includes a series of business, tourism, political and technology calls, as well as a second appearance on The Late Show.

It has been some time since a New Zealand Prime Minister has visited the White House, in the Trump years, and if it continues, it would be the first since John Key last visited in 2014 to meet President Barack Obama.

Covid-19, as usual, has caused complications, namely Ardern’s positive result more than a week ago where she caught the virus while self-isolating with her family – but efforts are under way still in the process of arranging a visit to the White House. According to CDC rules, she cannot travel for a full 10 days after symptoms start or after a positive test. This led to his delayed departure later that evening and the cancellation of the program’s first leg in Los Angeles.

The trip was organized around the prestigious invitation to be the keynote speaker at Harvard’s Beginning; it is also a chance to further stimulate trade and tourism in the huge American market. The United States is New Zealand’s third-largest trading partner with two-way trade worth $18.5 billion at the end of last year and annual trade growth averaging about 5% in the over the past 15 years. Before the pandemic, Americans made up 10% of New Zealand’s tourist numbers.

In New York, Ardern will meet United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and appear for the second time on the Last show with Stephane Colbert. She will meet with senior Senate officials in Washington, followed by meetings with tech heavyweights – Twitter, Amazon, Web Services and Microsoft. They’ll talk business, but it’s also a timely opportunity to heed Christchurch’s call following the recent Buffalo shootout.

Ardern says that while Covid has created more uncertainty, it hasn’t “had a huge impact from a business delegation perspective or for our engagements around business and tourism”.

“In these times, you’re rolling with the Covid curve balls you’re thrown.”

The United States in the Indo-Pacific

His trip comes at a time of great disruption and conflict, the invasion of Ukraine but also the strategic power play between the United States and China. Even when dealing with Ukraine, the US says the Indo-Pacific is a high priority area and vital to its own “security and prosperity”.

“I can’t imagine a more important time for political engagement,” Ardern said.

“You will see the United States engage with new NATO candidates, focusing entirely — not just on what the war in Ukraine means for the United States — but for the world.”

However, there is still a lot going on in New Zealand’s backyard; Ardern says he is happy to see US “re-engagement” in the region, while the White House admits the US needs to “step up” its game.

What New Zealand has been asking for, says Ardern, is the “return” of the United States, which has been “the present force” in the region for a number of years.

“What we’ve seen in recent years, however, has been a particular focus, perhaps on other national issues, or other regions and a little less presence in ours.”

Joe Biden has just made his first visit to Asia as US president and is preparing for a meeting of the Quad in Japan – an informal grouping alongside Australia, India and Japan, considered part of the American efforts to reduce China’s influence. Australia, of course, has just elected a new Prime Minister, Labor Anthony Albanese, who now appears to be edging Ardern to meet President Biden personally.

Late last week, China’s foreign spokesperson cited US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s comments that “President Biden’s upcoming trip to Asia is not about confronting China.” .

“We hope the United States will turn words into deeds and work with countries in the region to promote Asia-Pacific solidarity and cooperation, instead of plotting division and confrontation.

“He should work together to foster an open and inclusive ‘circle of friends’ in the Asia-Pacific region, instead of being a closed and exclusive ‘clique’,” they said.

On China, there is a stark assessment of the US vision in the Indo-Pacific strategy released by the White House in February, referring to the challenges facing the region “particularly from the PRC [People’s Republic of China]”.

“The PRC combines its economic, diplomatic, military and technological might as it pursues a sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and seeks to become the most influential power in the world.

“PRC coercion and aggression span the globe, but are most acute in the Indo-Pacific,” he says.

“From Australia’s economic coercion, to the conflict along the Line of Actual Control with India, to the mounting pressure on Taiwan and the intimidation of neighbors in the East and South China Seas, our allies and partners in the region bear much of the cost of the PRC’s harmful behavior.”

The United States promises to work much more closely with Pacific and regional partners and allies on a range of areas such as climate change, maritime security, and strengthening its military presence and capabilities.

Kurt Campbell is a senior White House official, the coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs in the National Security Council.

Speaking in Washington earlier this month, he said that in the past the US had focused a lot on other ‘theatres’, but it’s clear more attention is needed in the Pacific. .

“Several successive administrations in the United States have attempted this effort to launch more fundamental efforts, policies, frameworks in Asia, East Asia, Indo-Pacific and have found themselves stalled or misdirected, or directed towards other objectives.

“While there are urgent and immediate tasks…in Ukraine…at the same time, we recognize that the greatest and most fundamental challenges lie in the Indo-Pacific region,” Campbell said.

As the invasion of Ukraine unfolds on another continent, Campbell said there has been an “unprecedented level of engagement” from Asian nations, not driven by the United States but by “indigenous” manner, swiftly imposing sanctions, “tangible military assistance” and humanitarian aid.

Ukraine had sparked a lot of “silent strategic thinking” in the region, acting as a “cautionary tale” if something similar happened much closer to home.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking at the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 24.

Ardern spoke at the United Nations during a pre-pandemic trip in 2018.
Photo: AFP

Military power against economic commitment

There are many threads to these global relationships; security and defense are important, as is trade. America pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal under Donald Trump and no one is holding their breath for a return under the Biden administration.

Amid criticism that the United States has focused too much on security and defense, Biden is expected to announce some details about the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) as part of his trip to Asia. However, this relies on binding regional countries through common standards rather than a commitment to lower tariffs; it operates in a number of strategic areas such as supply chain resilience, carbon reduction and the digital economy.

It is also widely seen as a way to regain credibility and counter the economic influence of China, which is part of the world’s biggest trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and has applied to join the CPTPP.

Ardern says that while there is recognition that the United States has answered the call for more economic engagement, that does not mean New Zealand will stop pushing for the comprehensive and progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP, as it is “an existing framework that has a high quality agreement that sets high standards that we know are beneficial to our exporters”.

“The IPEF,” she says, “as launched…is not a traditional commercial instrument and so we still have room to continue to promote the CPTPP in particular.”

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