The week before last I was part of the New Zealand mission to Melanesia visiting Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Both countries are major targets of the New Zealand Aid Programme, with New Zealand involvement and support in areas ranging from police training to tourism. The reception in both countries was very friendly and showed there will be opportunities for New Zealand businesses to engage over the coming years either as part of the aid programmes or directly as the economies develop.
One of the most interesting parts of the trip was the delegation itself which was lead by Rt Hon Winston Peters and consisted of 10 MPs (including members of Labour, Greens, NZ First, and National) a Pasifika and community group, a business delegation, and media crew on top of the MFAT officials and RNZAF staff. With around seventy people we filled one of the Air Force’s 757s (which we were very happy to be in, as there had been some suggestions we might be in the Hercules and everyone agrees the novelty of wears off in the first 20 minutes of the flight). Bringing such a diverse group together with various experiences in the region was hugely valuable in its own right with connections quickly forming that will allow more NZ organisations to cooperate on what they’re doing in the region.
It was also a fascinating look into how well respected New Zealand is at a political level across the region. I think some credit must be given to all the politicians on the trip for contributing to New Zealand’s reputation in the region. Although it was a cross-party delegation everyone was explicit that New Zealand’s role and aid in the pacific is not a partisan issue and avoided bringing any of the domestic political disagreements they might have on the trip with them. Although some top level policy and direction might change this firm commitment to the region across all parties has contributed dramatically to how well we are thought of.
The trip was valuable in terms of all the connections built both in country and between the group itself. New Zealand presents itself well and is well-liked. The parliamentary delegation in particular worked hard to present as a single group from New Zealand rather than letting any of the disagreements they may have domestically show. As a business delegate I found it useful. The main thing for any others approached for a similar trip to be aware of is that the schedule is hard to keep to, and although there are a couple of gaps set up which you can theoretically book your own meetings into, it’s pretty hard in practice to actually pull that off. I have suggested something like a business speed dating event next time around so that the meetings can be centrally managed rather than delegates trying to sort out emergency internet connectivity to rebook a meeting when they realise the schedule has slipped.
Overall it was a hugely worthwhile trip in terms of connections built and for giving me some time on ground and experiences of things that would otherwise be hard to access. For those interested in specifics I’ve followed up with a couple of posts on Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.