City to city diplomacy returns to Auckland today with the latest Tripartite Economic Alliance meeting bringing delegations from Los Angeles and Guangzhou together at a delicate time in the US-China trade relationship.

The big southern Chinese city and the big West Coast metropolis have arrived in the biggest thing going in New Zealand, Auckland, to build on years of summitry that have linked businesses and polticians.

Gone are the grand, one-off conferences such as that of 2016 when Auckland last held the Tripartite conference attended by 800 people; the partner cities have since decided to pair their meetings with other events in each host city. In Auckland this week that is the TechWeek showcase of New Zealand digital innovators.

Guangzhou arrives with a delegation of 60, led by the local party secretary Zhang Shuofu.

LA’s Mayor (and for a time a suggested candidate for President for 2020, Eric Garcetti) is unable to make this meeting and has sent the deputy mayor Jeff Gorell with around 20 business and city officials.

Phil Goff opened proceedings last night and today about 250 people at the Waterfront Theatre will participate in sessions covering technology, investment, innovation and inclusive economic growth.

Goff says the meetings are an “important mechanism” for exchanging information and opportunities.

“The Tripartite Economic Alliance has strengthened Auckland’s relationships with China and the US. It has delivered multi-million dollar business deals for Auckland and New Zealand businesses, created jobs and economic growth for our city… China and the US are critical markets for Auckland and New Zealand’s economic growth.”

The Tripartite meeting this week has been organised by ATEED, the city’s economic development agency, with help from private sponsors and Government agencies.

ATEED’s general manager for economic development, Pam Ford, said the Tripartite events had ultimately always been about relationships. “Auckland Council’s approach has been to develop a comprehensive programme that allows our world-class businesses to springboard into two massive markets, while showcasing our innovation and investment opportunities to the two cities.”

The meeting would gather some of the three cities’ leading thinkers on public innovation.

Ford said the five years of gatherings had formed “continued relationships focused on business.”

She believed the benefits to Auckland of the Tripartite meetings in those five years had been greater than those from the combined sister city connections of 30 years with Guangzhou and 48 years with LA.

Acknowledging the timing of this week’s meeting, Ford said “I do think it’s ironic when we are bringing southern China and West Coast United States together a week after the trade war” deepened.

But Auckland and New Zealand had a role to play in the Asia Pacific region, with Auckland hosting APEC in two years and close involvement in the Asia Pacific business forums. “How can we help broker relationships and business partnerships [such as] screen productions and co-productions? It’s about how do we gain resonance and relevance in our part of the world.”

New Zealand’s consul-general in Guangzhou, Rachel Maidment, is back in Auckland for the Tripartite, after business opportunities developed in the Chinese city when it hosted the gathering two years ago, and ahead of its return to Guangzhou next year.

“It gives another platform for national relationships to get together,” Ford said.

The Tripartite delegates will tomorrow be hosted at screen production ventures in Auckland and at Maori businesses in the screen and technology sectors.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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