PM makes cred­i­ble show­ing amid a sea of old dudes

The Press - - Business - PATTRICK SMELLIE

OPIN­ION: There are few ex­pe­ri­ences so ar­ti­fi­cial as at­tend­ing global sum­mit con­fer­ences as part of your own coun­try’s me­dia con­tin­gent.

Trapped in a bub­ble of your fel­low cit­i­zens, there are times when you might learn as much watch­ing at home on the telly – ex­cept that you wouldn’t.

That’s the point of these lav­ish bun­fights: They force at­ten­tion on global is­sues that do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal pres­sure can side­line for re­porters, just as much as politi­cians and the pha­lanx of of­fi­cials who scurry after them.

The par­ti­san bub­ble ef­fect was strik­ing at last week­end’s Apec sum­mit in Viet­nam, where the New Zealand me­dia were given early in­sight into the an­gry re­ac­tion to Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s fail­ure to show up at a meet­ing where a new ver­sion of the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship was to be signed.

The Aus­tralian me­dia were fed a line that it was just a glitch un­til they re­alised Kiwi Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern had al­ready blurted, at which point their nar­ra­tive changed to an­gry com­plaints of be­trayal.

Mean­while, Cana­dian me­dia re­ported at first that the meet­ing sim­ply ‘‘did not hap­pen’’. If a tree falls in a for­est and Justin Trudeau isn’t there to hear, did it make a sound? Ap­par­ently not.

Then it was said to be a sched­ul­ing mix-up, and then it was a tri­umph of brinks­man­ship that won a bet­ter ver­sion of the TPP, re­dubbed the Com­pre­hen­sive Progress Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (CPTPP), all thanks to some tougher labour and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards.

Ardern and Trade Min­is­ter David Parker, fac­ing a back­lash from the more Left-lean­ing parts of its base at home, were happy to push the line that the CPTPP was a kinder, gen­tler TPP; a PC TPP, if you will. The Left won’t buy it, but to the wider do­mes­tic au­di­ence that cares more about ex­port ac­cess than the ar­cana of the in­vestor state dis­pute set­tle­ment (ISDS) ar­gu­ment, it was proof this is a gov­ern­ment that isn’t go­ing to throw out the trade baby with the ISDS bath­wa­ter.

How­ever, there is no es­cap­ing that Trudeau handed United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump a small vic­tory by scut­tling the ex­pected mu­tual sign­ing of a new TPP deal in Viet­nam among the 11 par­tic­i­pants after Trump with­drew from the trade and in­vest­ment pact in Jan­uary.

In­stead, the TPP-11 pre­sented dis­unity and agreed to more ne­go­ti­a­tions on four key ar­eas.

The TPP is out of ER, but may yet re­quire CPR.

The sus­pi­cion has to be that Canada was happy to sow dis­cord on the TPP when it has far big­ger fish to fry in fend­ing off Trump’s ef­forts to rene­go­ti­ate the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment with Canada and Mex­ico.

By invit­ing Trudeau to Antarc­tica, one has to won­der whether Ardern’s re­la­tion­ship with the only other Apec leader to share her se­cret sauce of youth, hope and op­ti­mism doesn’t por­tend an icy re­la­tion­ship be­tween the pair.

That would be in strik­ing con­trast to the ‘‘bro-mance’’ al­legedly struck up at last year’s Apec in Peru be­tween Trudeau and John Key, who was mak­ing his swan­song ap­pear­ance on the world stage, not that any­one knew it then.

Last year, New Zealand was rep­re­sented by a long-serv­ing leader who knew ev­ery­one, who wrongly – but with trade­mark self­as­sur­ance – in­sisted to Apec au­di­ences that Trump was ‘‘a busi­ness guy’’ who would come around to the TPP’s logic.

At Apec this year, Ardern’s chal­lenge was to strike her own tone: stylish; ap­pear­ing to walk the talk on in­equal­ity, sus­tain­abil­ity and cli­mate change; un­mis­tak­able in a sea of old dudes.

There is, of course, far more to ef­fec­tive na­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion than stand­ing out in the crowd. But as ground­work for fu­ture out­ings goes, Ardern has made a cred­i­ble show­ing and on her own terms.

The TPP is out of ER, but may yet re­quire CPR.

PHOTO: REUTERS

On the side­lines at Apec in Viet­nam, from left: Jacinda Ardern, Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto and Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau.

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