Editorial: Key wants slice of Myanmar trade action

First, President Barack Obama, then Prime Minister John Key enthused about Myanmar's emergence from five decades of harsh authoritarian rule and its transformation from international pariah to good world citizen. "Democracy" resonated in the rhetoric.

Before he arrived in Yangon, our media noted Mr Key was the first New Zealand leader to visit a country that had spent nearly 50 years under military rule until elections in 2010.

They anticipated Mr Key's praising the progress made since then towards building a democracy.

Sure enough, when the prime minister met opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, he reaffirmed this country's support "as Myanmar continues to promote the democratic and economic reforms she has dedicated so much of her life to achieving".

But his media statement after meeting with President Thein Sein curiously made no mention of democracy. Rather, it reaffirmed New Zealand's support for Myanmar's "reintegration into the wider international community", much the same way as social workers and prison workers encourage the rehabilitation of just-released convicts.

But Mr Key is going with the global flow, in professing to be nudging the Myanmar Government towards democracy. The flowery rhetoric disguises New Zealand's real purpose: to ensure that as trade relations between Myanmar and the rest of the world improve, we get a slice of the action.

The doors are being opened to a market of more than 50 million people and New Zealand companies are keen to cash in.

If a regard for democracy and human rights were critical factors when we choose our trading partners, our export growth would have been seriously hampered in the past decade. Come to think of it, after the continued suspension of democratic government in the Canterbury region, some countries might question our credentials.