New Zealand’s first trade delegation since the pandemic began, led by the Prime Minister, is heading back home after a packed week in Singapore and Japan.
When asked to reflect on the past week’s happenings, Jacinda Ardern said she was “really pleased” with the trip.
“[There was] a strong focus on trade, a strong focus on making sure that people to people link, our tourists, are coming back. And, of course, a chance to meet with leaders,” Ardern said.
“It was very clear with both [Japanese] Prime Minister [Fumio] Kishida and [Singaporean] Prime Minister Lee [Hsien Loong] we share very similar views on a lot of the international issues we’re facing.”
Despite Covid-19, she said the delegation was still able to do what it set out to do.
“But, it is very clear that it is still having an impact around the world.”
Ardern is expected to travel to Europe, US, Asia and Australia later this year.
For all of those trips, she said the focus was on supporting exporters and promoting New Zealand to visitors and international students because that was what would benefit most from face-to-face meetings.
Discussions around geopolitical issues, on the other hand, had been continuing throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Ardern added.
What’s happened in the past week?
The trade mission began in Singapore on Monday – New Zealand’s fifth-largest trading partner in recent years.
Included in the agenda was the war in Ukraine, trade, tensions around the South China Sea, and the potential for the US to re-join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
Ardern announced on Tuesday that New Zealand would also expand its Working Holiday Scheme with Singapore.
Three members of the 50-strong Kiwi delegation tested positive for Covid via a PCR test upon arrival in Singapore. All were historical infections, but it meant they couldn’t continue on to the Japan leg of the trip.
The delegation touched down in Tokyo on Thursday to talk about business, tourism and trade. Japan is New Zealand’s fourth-largest trading partner.
Ardern announced on Friday that New Zealand would start negotiations with Japan about an intelligence-sharing agreement. She said the agreement was not meant to be taken as a “warning shot” to China and noted both countries had similar information-sharing arrangements with other countries.
She said Cabinet had signed off on the mandate to start negotiations “a few weeks before travel”.
Japan’s lighter moments included an awkward handshake between Kishida and Ardern, dancing kiwifruit, and Ardern reuniting with a Japanese exchange student who stayed with her family 31 years ago.
It had been a busy time domestically, too, while Ardern was away. Among them: inflation hitting 6.9%, a release of the latest benefit statistics, and questions over the time it took to wind down MIQ amid Omicron and mental health funding.