Helen Clark had one piece of advice for her successor - focus on Latin America.
It is with that in mind that Prime Minister John Key is embarking on a whirlwind tour of Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Brazil on Monday.
"She really thought I should focus on Latin America. She'd been and she thought we were very undercooked there. As an investment of 10 days of my time, it's worth it."
With a population expected to reach 625 million in the next two years, competition for Latin American business is hotting up. Its countries are expected to grow by 3.5 per cent this year and average 3.9 per cent growth in 2014 and 2015, the World Bank has forecast.
New Zealand already has well established ties on the continent, particularly with Chile, and exports to the region total about $1 billion a year. Investments, in agri-business, energy, fisheries and manufacturing, are worth about $1.3b.
With this in mind, the Government revised its Latin America strategy in 2010, to maximise economic opportunities, as well as strengthen political and foreign policy links.
"We always think about going off to the East or US and Europe," Key says.
"We don't, as a country, think so much about going into Latin America. But it's a very young population, very vibrant with fast growing economies, particularly Brazil and Mexico, which are quite powerful economies. In Colombia there is also huge opportunity."
The delegation of 22 businesses is timely. Next year Brazil hosts the Fifa World Cup. In 2016, athletes will arrive for the Olympic Games.
The whole country is engaged in preparations. In Belo Horizonte, prostitutes are learning foreign languages to cater for their new customers. In Rio, abseiling refuse collectors are scaling the hillsides of the shanty towns to pick up tonnes of rubbish.
Key will visit Sao Paulo - the southern hemisphere's largest city, with 19 million people, and traffic jams stretching for 180 kilometres. In Brasilia, the 1960s concrete carbuncle undergoing a makeover for the soccer tournament, he'll meet President Dilma Rousseff.
A popular politician - she has an approval rating of 59 per cent - Rousseff is said to be more focused on domestic matters, than her charismatic predecessor Lula da Silva. Nevertheless, Brazil is lobbying for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council and it is a global player on issues that are important to New Zealand, including the Doha trade round and climate change negotiations. Key also will be lobbying all four countries as he pitches for a non- permanent seat in 2015.
With about 35,000 visitors a year from the region, New Zealand also has an interest in enhanced airlinks with Brazil. Tourists and students from Brazil are worth more to New Zealand than exports and EducationNZ hopes to expand the market beyond secondary school and English language training. There are more than 3500 Brazilian students here already, worth about $55 million a year.
In Santiago, Key will meet President Sebastian Pinera. High on the agenda will be the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. He'll also visit Fonterra's Soprole farm in Puerto Montt for a barbecue.
In Bogota, Key will meet President Juan Manuel Santos and attend a reception at Club El Nogal, where 36 people died in a 2003 car bomb attack. It is the first time a New Zealand prime minister has officially visited Colombia.
Key will also be the first foreign leader to hold talks with new President Enrique Pena Nieto - and the TPP negotiations, which Mexico joined last year in Auckland, will be discussed.
But there are risks for New Zealand in the trade push.
Latin America is a competitor in agriculture.
High levels of crime and political instability are also still a risk to investors, who are often also encumbered by red tape.
Tim King worked for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise in Sao Paulo before establishing Braanz, a consultancy assisting foreign companies to do business in Brazil.
"There is a huge and growing consumer market here with increasing disposable income," he says. "If companies can latch on and share their knowledge with good Brazilian partners, then, because of the enormous scale here, they stand to do well."
But Brazil is still a protected economy, with high taxes on products that New Zealand companies want to sell.
"Doing business in Brazil will take lots of time, money and effort so the market is not for the faint- hearted . . . it also has a lot of bureaucracy and rules, which you just need to accept, for example the process of setting up a company takes about three months, a stark contrast to time taken in New Zealand."
The high kiwi dollar is a problem, he says.
"But now that the New Zealand dollar is a bit stronger relatively, and while making direct exporting to Brazil harder, it also brings about opportunities to invest here."
King acts for Structurflex, a supplier of tension membrane roofing on the stadium that will be used for the opening game of the football World Cup.
While construction opportunities for the World Cup have passed, they are still open to Kiwi firms for the Olympic Games.
Key expects the results of his visit to be slow burning - and dismisses concerns about the exchange rate.
"This is about the long-term potential. Most of what we are selling into this market is services . . . that is less susceptible to the exchange rate."
Andrea Vance is travelling with John Key and will be filing daily reports.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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