Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has acknowledged the key role of the primary industries sector over the last nine months.
He says this will strengthen New Zealand’s efforts to negotiate FTAs with both the EU and the UK.
Petersen says, because of Covid, the ability of NZ politicians, farming and industry leaders to personally get alongside their overseas counterparts has virtually stopped. Trade Minister Damien O’Connor acknowledged this in a separate interview with Rural News and noted that he would be spending hours on Zoom trying to do what he’d normally do in person.
Petersen believes the going is tough for NZ in its negotiations with the UK and EU, both with Covid and the political upheaval in the United States. He says there isn’t an ability to engage personally with people and this is made harder because there are now new faces on the political scene in the EU.
Petersen says the biggest problem NZ has is the inability to travel.
“This is very frustrating for us and I am seeing our counterpart organisations off-shore loving the fact that we can’t go up there and tout our credentials and counter some of the myths that are being spread when it comes to NZ,” he told Rural News.
“That is sadly lacking at the moment. Yes, we have got our embassy people who are being put on to do that work on our behalf. I am not saying I don’t trust them. But nothing beats us having politicians, farmers, our special ag trade envoy Mel Poulton, or the companies going into the market and doing the work themselves,” he adds.
Petersen says the longer the lack of engagement goes on, the more difficult it becomes for NZ. He says it makes sense for a nation that exports 95% of its produce offshore to have a senior minister based in Europe to put the NZ case at a political level.
There is a precedent for the proposal. In 1942, the then Prime Minister Peter Fraser appointed his Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Walter Nash as the ambassador to the USA. This move was designed to ensure NZ’s position on the war was communicated first-hand to the US President Franklin D Roosevelt.
Fraser’s view was that NZ’s relationship with the US was so important that it needed a permanent presence of a very senior minister in Washington. Nash served in the role until early 1944.