Trade Minister Damien O’Connor’s not-so secret Washington trip revealed, other destinations unclear

Trade Minister Damien O’Connor will depart New Zealand for the United States likely sometime later this week. The trip will likely take in the United Kingdom, and the European Union as well for trade talks.

Usually, a trip like this would be announced well in advance of the minister leaving.

In this case, the trip was kept secret until days before O’Connor was set to depart and was only revealed after the United States’ Chargé d’affaires in New Zealand, Kevin Covert, tweeted the news.

The trip appears to have run into some organisational difficulties with O’Connor departing the country before confirming meetings with everyone he intends to see. In fact, the final list of countries to be visited by O’Connor has not yet been confirmed.

It’s understood the European itinerary could include London, Berlin, Stockholm, Madrid and possibly Brussels.

O’Connor said he will be leaving some time this week.

“At this stage it is probably later this week, but as I say the detail is yet to be finalised

“We will be making an announcement before I go. There is nothing secret here but we do have to respect those people we want to meet with that we agree to those meetings before we go out and make those announcements,” O’Connor said.

Earlier this year, O’Connor travelled to the UK and EU for trade talks. While in the UK, he and his British counterpart Trade Secretary Liz Truss agreed to conclude trade talks by August.

That deadline has now passed. Truss has since moved on from her trade role and been replaced by Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

O’Connor said the hold-up was over the access for New Zealand agriculture producers to the UK market.

“The issues are always the sensitive ones for us- it’s goods access in the important area of agriculture, but also we have some issues around services as does the UK particularly around the area of services investment,” O’Connor said.

“These are predictable issues, but they are tricky ones in the new world – e-commerce, digital trade,” he said.

O’Connor said the meetings could not be done virtually, given the pressure on the MIQ system. Fellow minister James Shaw has recently copped criticism for travelling to Glasgow for COP26 climate talks.

Details of O’Connor’s trip will be finalised shortly, he is expected to go through MIQ, rather than using the Government’s pilot scheme allowing a small number of people to isolate at home.

The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had earlier expressed an interest in travelling this year. She opted not to visit the United States for the United Nations General Assembly’s leaders week this year. She has also opted out of attending COP26 in Glasgow.

Earlier in the year, Ardern had said Europe and north America would be her priorities for travel once that was viable again.

Asked again about that by the NZ Herald last week, Ardern said the reason Europe was high on her list was because of the free trade agreement. “We will be looking for broad support for that.”

Asked if Spain and Denmark would be on that itinerary after deals to buy vaccines from them, Ardern said broadening relationships was good for New Zealand.

A spokesperson confirmed the Prime Minister would not be attending COP due to Apec hosting duties. No other travel has been confirmed, and would be dependent on the domestic situation with Covid.

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