It may be missing a US president, but today’s Port Moresby talkfest still matters to New Zealand, write Catherine McGregor and special correspondent Stewart Sowman-Lund in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.
For the PM, a whistlestop visit and a packed schedule
Stewart Sowman-Lund reports from Papua New Guinea.
A gun salute (19, not the full 21) welcomed prime minister Chris Hipkins to Port Moresby, the largest city in Papua New Guinea last night. The sudden noise made some of the New Zealand media delegation, fresh off the Air Force plane, swear – and at least one journo fully dived for cover. After Auckland’s chilly weekend, the humidity in PNG, even at 8pm at night, was confronting.
But beyond the pageantry of a Pacific welcome, it’s what today brings that will be the real excitement for Chris Hipkins. The prime minister has a packed schedule during his one-day visit to the Pacific nation. He’ll first meet with PNG’s prime minister Jame Marape, before a bilateral with the Cook Islands’ PM Mark Brown. Later, he’ll host a roundtable with local economic and business leaders before rounding out his agenda with two heavy-hitters: India’s Narendra Modi and US secretary of state Antony Blinken.
Blinken was a last minute replacement for US president Joe Biden, who pulled his planned trip to Australia and PNG due to an impending economic crisis back home. While PM Hipkins has remained diplomatic, he’ll be sad to have missed the opportunity for an election year handshake with the leader of the free world. “Everyone would have welcomed it if [Biden] had been able to attend but I certainly acknowledge and respect that sometimes things change,” he told me yesterday. The two may meet during a Nato summit later in the year.
Hipkins suggested during a pre-flight press conference yesterday afternoon that his visit to PNG was largely about building ties in the Pacific given his absence from a Pacific Island Forum meeting at the start of the year. When asked by The Spinoff whether anything “concrete” would come out of the visit for New Zealand, he said: “It will be largely introductory meetings for me with a lot of the Pacific leaders, but I also think it’s really important that New Zealand is represented at this meeting as well, clearly a significant set of discussions taking place.” As well as “grin and shake” photo ops, expect discussion on the militarisation of the Pacific, the growing influence of China – and the chance for Hipkins to make the case for a free trade deal with India, something National will be hoping for.
We’ll have live updates throughout the day – follow along here.
The rocky state of the NZ-India relationship
Catherine McGregor writes.
Hipkins may have missed the chance to talk in person with Joe Biden, but with today’s Narendra Modi meeting he’s getting facetime with one of the world’s most powerful people (and now leader of the world’s most populous country). New Zealand’s trading relationship with India is in poor health, writes Geoffrey Miller on Victoria University of Wellington’s Democracy Project website, and the prospect of a free trade agreement (FTA) appears further away than ever. AUT’s Rahul Sen tells Q&A we’ve “fallen off the radar” – in stark contrast with Australia, which signed an FTA with India last year. One of the issues is that India doesn’t need our dairy or meat. “India is not a food deficit country; in fact, it is one of the world’s agricultural producers,” India NZ Business Council chair Earl Rattray told Dileep Foneska in December. The solution, Foneska suggests, is to focus for now on building diplomatic relations – and hope the economic benefits arrive later.