Key expects Latin American ties to strengthen

ANDREA VANCE IN BRASILIA
Last updated 07:20 13/03/2013
John Key and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff
FRANCIS TILL

IN AGREEMENT: New Zealand prime minister John Key and Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff speak during a joint press conference in Brasilia, ending Key's 10-day visit to Latin America.

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Prime minister John Key expects New Zealand's ties with Latin America to move up tempo after his 10-day flit around the region.

After four countries, five political leaders, half a dozen military welcome ceremonies, 16 flights and upwards of 40,000 miles in 10 days, Mr Key heads back to Auckland today.

He brings home with him a sombrero, poncho, cuff links, "practically a cellar" of Chilean wine, and a photo album of his arrival in Brasilia capital yesterday - all official gifts.

Key lists meetings with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as the unexpected wins of the trip.

In Brasilia last night, Rousseff gave strong hints her government would back New Zealand's bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Brazil is making a pitch for a permanent seat and was not expected to give any signal on its views.

Key also secured the support of Mexico, Colombia and Chile for the vote, next year.

In Bogota, Santos told a joint press conference he hoped to strike a free trade deal with New Zealand in the future.

Key said all the meetings have been "very positive." He also met former Brazilian president Lula da Silva in Sao Paulo.

"We weren't expecting any kind of signal [from Brazil]," he said. "It's quite positive, actually."

The legacy of the trip will be better political relations with the countries and their leaders, he believes.

"These things are always about personal relationships ... if you know another leader it just helps if you want to try and resolve an issue."

Officials' work behind the scenes helped secure the backing of Chile, Mexico and Colombia.

"But in terms of Brazil, turning up really helped ... they were much more forward leaning that we thought. They typically don't declare quite so much ... the other Latin and South American countries will look at what Brazil says because its their role and place. There is no question that it really helps."

Unlike his visits to Asia, Key has not been pitching commodities. With a delegation of around 22 business people in tow, he has been pitching for Kiwi investment in the fast-growing economies of the region. And after a debrief with the business delegation this morning, he said they have generated 49 new leads from 134 meetings.

"I genuinely believe that Latin America is a part of the world that is going to grow and develop," he said.

"A lead means that the New Zealand business now has some genuine engagement with another company where they look likely to do some business together. For, the delegation they seem absolutely convinced it was worthwhile. They are business people, so in the end they value their time and resources. And if they say it has worked for them then I think that is pretty positive feedback."

The government will now try and "unlock the barriers" to trade, such as a ban on exporting meat to some Latin American companies.

"Slowly, the world is moving towards a place that trades more freely with one another."

The mission included a visit to a farm owned by Fonterra's massive Chilean company Soprole in southern Chile, and a training session for the Brazilian Under-19 rugby team, run by the Crusaders.

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There were also a number of education events and agreements, as New Zealand tries to pull in more foreign students.

But the trip was almost scuppered by the death of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez last week. Because Key was travelling in an Air Force 757, rather than commercially, it was relatively easy to re-arrange meetings.

Mr Key did face some criticism for not attending the Caracas funeral, but defended the decision because New Zealand does not have close ties with the oil-rich republic. It is understood primary industries minister Nathan Guy, who accompanied the trade mission, hopes to visit in the near future.

Mr Guy also faced some flack for not returning to New Zealand, where farmers are enduring the worst drought in 70 years. He argued the trip was important to open doors for agriculture.

The delegation will return to New Zealand via Easter Island, where Mr Key and wife Bronagh are expected to have a private tour.

- Fairfax Media

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