It's all good, just don't mention the nukes

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 23/05/2013

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OPINION: The relationship between New Zealand and the US is so good that the US-NZ Partnership Forum, set up in 2006 as a backdoor way for the two governments to thrash out the anti-nuclear standoff, risks losing relevance.

There were grumbles in the background of this week's gathering that it lacked the same high-level US punch of previous years, while the decision to open the meeting to the media sparked more grumbling that it inhibited the exchange of views.

The more likely truth, however, is that now there is little left to fix in the relationship, the urgency of previous years has disappeared.

US Ambassador David Huebner put it even more bluntly: "In my view, the forum and two councils are endangered species."

Huebner is also said to have ruffled feathers with a quip about paramedics, apparently a reference to the number of old warriors still present from the Anzus bust-up years.

But efforts to broaden the reach of the forum by sponsoring young participants were only partially successful.

Without the nuclear issue, the forum has seized on trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as its new raison d'être. But whether that is enough to sustain a two-day gathering every two years remains to be seen, given the two countries are in accord on the TPP.

The only voices of disagreement were among the "future leaders" group, including 20-year-old Kiwa Huata, who stood to label some of the rhetoric surrounding the TPP "bulls...".

Meanwhile, the new format threatened to turn the event into a Kiwi love-fest, with invited US guests feeling obliged to extol the virtues of New Zealand.

The benefits to the US of fielding a heavyweight delegation were less clear. It was not lost on some New Zealand participants that many of the US delegates were not the heavy hitters, but lobbyists or government officials.

Until New Zealand figures out how to put the US back into the NZ-US part of the title, that may become the new normal.

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- The Dominion Post

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