New Zealand’s gun law reform and the creation of the Christchurch Call in the wake of the March 15 terror attacks are talking points internationally wherever the Trade Minister goes.
“They have always been a feature of conversation, and an acknowledgement of what we have done,’’ Damien O’Connor told Newsroom.
Gun reform is in sharp focus in the United States after 19 children and two adults were killed at an elementary school in Texas last week – less than a fortnight after 10 members of the Black community were killed at a Buffalo grocery store.
Speaking to Newsroom at the end of the official programme for the business delegation, O’Connor said New Zealand’s experience had “come to the fore’’ on the US visit because of the unfortunate timing of both the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings.
“The likelihood is that unless something changes in the US, these shootings will continue, and are a threat to their society almost in the same way climate change is.’’
O’Connor said the Government shouldn’t be offering advice on how to fix it.
“But we can explain what we did, and if they can pick up any wisdom from that, it is up to them.’’
While there is shock and anguish across the political divide about what happened in both Buffalo and Uvalde, those Senators who are most pro-reform were also realistic during Ardern’s visit to The Capitol that the latest horrific events won’t force change.
“A reduction in arms anywhere in the world has got to be better for us all but that’s a debate the Americans are having.” – Damien O’Connor
The National Rifle Association (NRA) donates millions to Senators each year and chose to push ahead with its convention at the weekend, which was held in Houston, Texas, just days after the school shooting in the same state.
O’Connor said there were pressures politically when it came to gun reform.
“There are huge amounts of money from lobby groups that have no interest in trying to reduce the level of guns in the US.
“This is a different culture and it’s not for us to say what or how it should happen other than to say we believe in a reduction in assault rifles, which place incredible danger in the community in the hands of people who want to do crazy things.
“A reduction in arms anywhere in the world has got to be better for us all but that’s a debate the Americans are having,’’ O’Connor said.
The Covid recovery has also been a focus in the United States and positive cases continue to plague the group travelling with the Prime Minister.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade chief executive Chris Seed tested positive in San Francisco, as did Jacinda Ardern’s chief press secretary Andrew Campbell. Both delivered the positive tests ahead of the flight to Washington DC on Monday NZT, and have remained in San Francisco to isolate.
The rest of the delegation is en route to Washington DC, after producing negative RAT tests. No one else in the delegation is currently symptomatic, and the New Zealand Embassy in Washington DC is in contact with the White House.
Finding trade ties
On the trade front, O’Connor said the trip had a big focus on decarbonisation and sustainability and that was reflected in many of the events and announcements so far, including at BlackRock.
Asked how BlackRock really fitted into that when the investment fund manager and fossil fuels went hand-in-hand, O’Connor said BlackRock was well aware “the writing is on the wall’’.
Through the chairman’s letter, which is regularly sent to all investors, the message is “they’re moving towards measures that include sustainability, that include a move to a lower carbon future.
“They see they can’t continue to invest the way they have done for the last 50 years because the world is moving, and they want to be at the forefront of that and ensure there are credible commercial and investment issues in a greener low carbon world,’’ he said.
Heading into the trip the talking points were expected to be trade and tourism, and while they have featured, politics has somewhat taken over.
But O’Connor says despite the absence of a trade agreement, the US is still New Zealand’s third-biggest trading partner.
He says the US joining the CPTPP isn’t any more realistic now than it was a month ago when Ardern was in Singapore and Japan.
“I don’t think it’s changed.’’
But O’Connor said Asian countries and New Zealand wanted to see trade opportunities as part of the new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and “the US understands that’’.
“That may lead to ultimately the inclusion of US in the CPTPP. That might be one option,’’ he said.
But for now, O’Connor says the IPEF is what the region has to work with, and while he says it’s a consolation prize, it doesn’t mean trade talks can’t continue.
“A formal trade agreement might help some of our sectors of course – but the absence of that trade agreement is not the measure of success in a really strong relationship between two like-minded partners.
“That would be the icing on the cake, but the cake is still growing through the good efforts of individual businesspeople and our efforts at a political level.”
When Ardern heads to the White House to meet President Joe Biden on Wednesday NZT, O’Connor won’t be there alongside her.
He told Newsroom it was her visit and he continues to meet and be in regular contact at a ministerial level.