Working for NZ in UAE
He is about to head to one of the world’s hottest places — but Matthew Hawkins says he’ll still return home to Taupō as often as he can.
“It’s always awesome to get back and put my feet in the lake and feel at home,” says Matthew, 47, who has just been appointed New Zealand’s next Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.
“I get back [to Taupō] four or five times over the year. It will be a bit different when I’m overseas but when I’m here [in Wellington] I’m consistently back, and I get energised coming home.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters announced last week that Mr Hawkins, born and raised in Taupō, had been appointed to the ambassador’s position. The posting, expected to be three or four years, follows a career that has included work overseas and in New Zealand.
The UAE is the entry point into the Middle East for many New Zealand businesses and travellers, with two-way trade over $3 billion in 2017. The New Zealand Embassy in Abu Dhabi is also accredited to Qatar.
Matthew has previously been based in the Embassy in Tehran and was Charge d’Affaires in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as well as also working in Afghanistan, Iraq and Washington DC.
Matthew attended Waipahihi School, Taupō Intermediate and Napier Boys High School where he was head prefect of the boarding house.
His father Rex was a Taupō police detective and later a businessman and a district and regional councillor and his mother Sue a well-known journalist who worked at Radio
New Zealand Taupō, later Radio Lakeland, the Taupō Times and NZPA.
Matthew did a law degree and a Bachelor of Arts in political science at Victoria University of Wellington, followed by a Masters of Law at Georgetown University, Washington DC. He worked in the US, Australia and New Zealand in law and the telecommunications sector before taking a job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
“I had bumped into people working for MFAT in my overseas work and they were all highly motivated to serve New Zealand and were doing a range of interesting work. That was really appealing and the ability to be connected with New Zealand in work overseas was also quite appealing.”
Matthew says he didn’t set out to become a Middle East specialist.
“We are known as generalists who should be able to represent wherever you pop up in the world. We have 50 embassies all over the world and are doing different things in all those countries.
“I took the chance to do my first post in Iran and it’s led me into this area. I’ve also done quite a lot in Wellington and Washington trade negotiations and the World Trade Organisation negotiations, free trade agreement with Hong Kong and I’ve worked on the CPTTP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership).”
Matthew says the UAE is full of opportunities and a big part of his role will be to help New Zealand companies grasp them as well as provide assistance to New Zealanders.
“There’s about 5000 New Zealanders living there and about 150 New Zealand companies throughout the Middle East region and it’s one of our top 10 trade partners.”
The job will be fast-paced, competing with a lot of other countries for business and supporting New Zealand commercial interests and building relationships.
“I’m really excited. The opportunities are enormous.”
Living in Abu Dhabi will be quite different from New Zealand.
“It gets up to 50C there so it’s really hot.
“You spend a lot of time indoors and that’s difficult for Kiwis, but it’s a very advanced economy and society so it’s very comfortable living there and lots of things to do and a really exciting place.”
Matthew has been meeting New Zealand companies interested in doing business in the
Middle East and is now doing two months of Arabic language study.
“Then I’ll have a couple of weeks getting energised in Taupō for a holiday over Christmas. I’ll be back at least once a year to connect with head office and come to Taupō and have a break as well.” Matthew and his wife head to Abu Dhabi the first week of January.
New Zealand’s next Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Matthew Hawkins, says coming home to Taupo¯ always energises him.