Something Old, Something New: Vicki Treadell Suggests That It Is Time to Re-Energise the United Kingdom-New Zealand Relationship and Build Closer Ties between the Two Countries

Article excerpt

There has been a revolution in the British-New Zealand relationship. This revolution is still bookended by the traditional, such as the recent Royal Wedding and the Queen's birthday, but it has at its centre a joint trade dynamism aimed at the new Asian super-powers. The two countries have always had a special relationship, though the ties were strained after Britain turned to Europe in the 1970s. It is time to re-energise the relationship and re-discover each other in a modern and contemporary context. Modern Britain's rapidly recovering economy has much to offer New Zealand m and in the next fourteen months the two countries will have a period of intense contact upon which to build closer ties.

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A revolution is taking place in the relationship between the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Some of this is by design. Some results from wider events that have drawn our countries together in both grief and celebration. The coincidence of timing may be serendipitous, but the smart move now is to take stock and to consolidate this welcome development.

From first settlers and founding fathers to the Treaty of Waitangi and the establishment of New Zealand as an independent state to sacrifice alongside each other in two world wars and beyond, the United Kingdom and New Zealand have a special relationship. There is a longstanding bond between us, but what worried me, as I did the rounds before leaving the United Kingdom to take up my appointment here as British high commissioner, was that most of those I spoke to, and much of what I read, referenced our relationship in a historical context. History, of course, explains to us how we have reached the point we are at, but I heard very little about what drives the relationship today. Words like dose and references to shared values naturally have meaning. We must hold onto what lies behind these words, but the United Kingdom and New Zealand were drifting apart, not by design but by the reality of modern times and the change in global dynamics.

This drift may even now not be recognised, but let us look at the facts. There was a sense of betrayal when the United Kingdom joined the European Union. For many the 'Old Country' was seen to be turning her back on family; family, moreover, that had given so much in human terms. In the Second World War, New Zealand had, of all the Allied countries, the highest proportion of men in the armed forces at 74.2 per cent and the highest Commonwealth death rate in the forces. In some sense, our matesmanship stalled as a consequence of our EU engagement. This change in the United Kingdom's outlook had, more fundamentally and economically, deep consequences for New Zealand where the United Kingdom had been the main destination for her exports (49 per cent pre-EU, now at just under 4 per cent). This one move saw New Zealand forced to diversify and look to new markets. The umbilical cord was cut. But this was the making of New Zealand, a proud small country that boxes well above her weight. As that great Kiwi poet Denis Glover once wrote:

   I do not dream of Sussex Downs,
   Or quaint old England's quaint old towns,
   But think of what will yet be seen,
   In Johnsonville and Geraldine.

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The following decades saw New Zealand's trade with the United Kingdom decline whilst that with other regions grew. With the economic emergence of India, China and the Asian Tigers, New Zealand rightly saw opportunities closer to home and has redefined herself as part of the Asia-Pacific region. This is New Zealand's neighbourhood. These are the new markets of opportunity. But, of course, they are the markets that the United Kingdom is equally pursuing and has a significant presence in not least in terms of UK investments. The United Kingdom is a top five investor in both China and India. Beijing and Delhi are no further away from London than they are from Wellington. Indeed, in flying time they are closer to London. …