Geoffrey Miller: Is it time for Jacinda Ardern to head to the Middle East?

Geoffrey Miller: Is it time for Jacinda Ardern to head to the Middle East?

In her victorious election campaign in 2017, Jacinda Ardern famously called climate change ‘my generation’s nuclear-free moment’.

But perhaps surprisingly, Ardern has not attended a UN climate change conference since she became New Zealand’s Prime Minister in 2017.

Had New Zealand’s Covid-19 situation allowed for it, Ardern would have almost certainly joined the many other world leaders who went to COP26 in Glasgow last year.

At the time, New Zealand still had strict border restrictions in place. These included long waiting lists for hotel quarantine spaces upon return – which made overseas travel by Ardern politically unpalatable.

Ardern dispatched her climate change minister, James Shaw, to Scotland instead.

Last year’s COP26 in Glasgow was heavily attended by leaders because countries are expected to make major new climate pledges every five years.

The main outcome was the Glasgow Climate Pact, which prioritises taking action on climate change in the 2020s and limiting the rise in global average temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees. To this end, New Zealand committed to reducing its net emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, when compared with 2005 levels.

By contrast, this year’s COP27 in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh is billed as being about ‘implementation’ and on working on the detail. Leaders will largely speak in roundtable formats, rather than at UN General Assembly-style plenary sessions.

Nevertheless, the summit will still be a major event. Egypt says around 90 heads of state have sent in an RSVP – and US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron have already confirmed they will attend.

Israel, which occupied the Sinai Peninsula where Sharm el-Sheikh is located from 1967-1982, will also send a large delegation to its neighbour and will have a dedicated pavilion at a COP event for the first time. Ran Yaakoby, Israel’s ambassador to Wellington, wrote last week that ‘collaborations’ with the Pacific pavilion that includes New Zealand are planned.

On the other side of the ledger, the United Kingdom’s Rishi Sunak is skipping the summit and Australia’s Anthony Albanese is unlikely to attend  – although both Australia and the UK were represented by their then respective leaders at Glasgow in 2021.

Of course, the ostensibly more practical focus of COP27 might appeal to Jacinda Ardern – and it would follow on from her trip to Antarctica in October that sought to highlight problems caused by climate change.

Earlier in October, the Prime Minister also personally unveiled a bolder-than-expected blueprint to force New Zealand farmers pay for agricultural greenhouse gas (such as methane) emissions from their livestock. The draft plan led to major protests within New Zealand’s agricultural and rural sector.

New Zealand was one of 105 countries that signed up to the Global Methane Pledge in Glasgow in 2021, under which signatories promised to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.

While Ardern’s attendance at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh would be hugely significant in its own right, a trip would also make sense for other reasons.

First and foremost, the visit to Egypt would also be Jacinda Ardern’s first trip as Prime Minister to the Middle East.

Despite its strategic and trading significance, the Middle East has probably been overlooked by New Zealand in recent years.

John Key’s visits to the Gulf and then Iraq in 2015 were the last times a New Zealand Prime Minister visited the region.

Nevertheless, Ardern already has a significant profile in the Middle East, largely built on her response to the Christchurch mosque attacks in 2019. Her landslide election victory in 2020 was covered heavily by Arabic-language media.

A visit by Ardern to Egypt would be the first by a New Zealand Prime Minister since Helen Clark went to Cairo in 2007 to open a New Zealand embassy there.

For New Zealand, the trip would probably come at just the right time.

Exports to Egypt are currently surging – reaching almost $NZ400 million in the year to June, the highest level since 2016.

New Zealand’s links with Egypt date back to the troops who were stationed in the country during World War I and World War II.

More recently, New Zealand’s current ambassador to Cairo, Greg Lewis, even became a minor celebrity in Egypt for ‘mango diplomacy’, after social media posts praising the country’s range of different mangos went viral.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, the trade picture is similarly optimistic.

New Zealand exports to the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – now exceed $NZ2 billion annually. In the other direction, imports from the GCC countries to New Zealand now top $NZ3 billion each year.

When taken as a single market, the GCC is both New Zealand’s seventh-biggest export market and overall trading partner.

It’s no wonder then that Damien O’Connor, New Zealand’s trade minister, cites the GCC as New Zealand’s current priority when it comes to free trade negotiations.

Of course, authoritarian regimes are a major complicating factor when it comes to New Zealand’s trade deals with the Middle East.

Activist Naomi Klein recently criticised Egypt’s hosting of COP27 as ‘greenwashing a police state’, pointing to the poor human rights record and treatment of political prisoners by the country that has been ruled by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi since he led a military coup in 2013.

When asked in relation to his Gulf trade focus about how New Zealand balances trade against human rights concerns, O’Connor largely dodged the question and referred the matter to the foreign affairs minister, arguing ‘there are commercial relationships that are separate’.

Of course, New Zealand already has extensive experience in navigating tensions between human rights and trade in its relationship with China, its biggest trading partner.

New Zealand has had a diplomatic presence in the Middle East since 1975, when it opened an embassy in Tehran.

The news last week that two New Zealanders had been released unharmed by Iran – after being held for several months – showed how a longstanding diplomatic relationship and quiet work behind the scenes could pay off.

The story and the growing street protests in Iran serve as reminders of the complexity and difficult choices New Zealand faces in its relationship with the Middle East as a whole.

Aside from COP27 in Egypt, other major global events are currently being staged throughout the Gulf.

In Saudi Arabia, the Future Investment Initiative event often called ‘Davos in the Desert’ has just wrapped up in Riyadh. In the UAE, the Global Media Congress – a major summit on the future of the industry – and the Formula One Grand Prix will soon get underway in Abu Dhabi. And Bahrain will host foreign and defence ministers at the flagship Manama Dialogue event run by London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

The world’s eyes will then shift to Qatar, as it hosts the FIFA World Cup from November 20 until 18 December. It will be the first time that a country in the Middle East has hosted the world’s biggest sporting event.

The Middle East is likely to continue to increase in significance for New Zealand.

The outcomes at COP27 in Egypt will have a direct impact on liveability in the Middle East.

Like the Pacific, the Middle East is on the frontlines of climate change – and even hotter temperatures will make further social unrest more likely.

That means climate change will have a direct bearing on New Zealand’s future exports to the region.

There is much at stake.

Geoffrey Miller is the Democracy Project’s international analyst and writes on current New Zealand foreign policy and related geopolitical issues. He has lived in Germany and the Middle East and is a learner of Arabic and Russian. Geoffrey is attending the Global Media Congress as a guest of the organisers, the Emirates News Agency (WAM).

This article can be republished under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0  license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project.  


Further reading on Foreign Affairs and Trade

Alexander Gillespie (The Conversation): Dealing with a ‘bloody messy’ world – the urgent foreign policy challenges facing NZ
Donna Miles (Stuff): Can New Zealand hold on to its independent foreign policy?
Molly Swift (Newshub): Trade Minister Damien O’Connor says human rights issues kept separate from trade relationships in China, Middle East
RNZ: Nothing stopping New Zealand’s condemnation of Iran, Green Party says
Michael Neilson (Herald): Iran New Zealand protesters outside Wellington embassy burn hijab, passports, flags then rally at Parliament for stronger action
Virginia Fallon (Stuff): ‘That’s what being a Kiwi is all about’: Why the Government had to help influencers detained in Iran
Andrea Vance (Stuff): Much diplomatic capital was wasted on rescuing two idiots abroad – all for likes and a glossy selfie
Hayden Donnell (Spinoff): The real reason David Seymour blocked Golriz Ghahraman’s Iran statement
Charles Finny (BusinessDesk): Hu Jintao’s legacy for NZ (paywalled)
RNZ: Goff relaxed on political nature of new UK role


Other items of interest and importance today

Thomas Manch (Stuff): Winston Peters returns to kingmaker position in new political poll
Thomas Manch and Anna Whyte (Stuff): By the numbers: Has Labour achieved its promises during five years in power?
Thomas Manch (Stuff): Labour has a good week, but its hurried legacy-making risks being undone
Karl du Fresne: The problem with Luxon
Claire Trevett (Herald): The Luxon Maccas photo op and will Jacinda Ardern find a happy meal for voters or get stuck in the ice? (paywalled)
Claire Trevett (Herald): Beehive Diaries: Revealed – Sir John Key’s new helicopter and the alternative paint job suggestions (paywalled)
Peter Wilson (RNZ): Week in Politics: National charges in over hospital waiting times
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): 5 years of Jacinda, 1 policy achievement and the last two reasons left to vote for her in 2023
Steve Braunias (Herald): The Secret Diary … of Sir John Key (paywalled)
Andrew Kirton (Herald): Labour is revving up the mojo for a feisty election year (paywalled)
Melanie Earley and Troels Sommerville (Stuff): Woman charged with PM office attack granted name suppression
Caroline Williams (Stuff): Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says office attack ‘extremely upsetting’
Mark Quinlivan (Newshub): Michael Wood defends Clarke Gayford going to Antarctica as ‘entirely appropriate’
Krystal Gibbens (RNZ): Jacinda Ardern’s plane breaks down in Antarctica
Herald: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s plane breaks down in Antarctica – Italian aircraft comes to rescue
Stuff: Jacinda Ardern’s plane breaks down in Antarctica
Krystal Gibbons (RNZ): Government’s planes falling apart ‘a bad look’ – ACT
Victor Billot (Newsroom): An Ode for the Ice Queen
Hamish McNeilly (Stuff): ‘Timing is everything’: The rise of aspiring politician James Meager
Shaneel Lal (Herald): National Party protects Sam Uffindell and silences bullying victims(paywalled)
Michael Neilson (Herald): National Party selects Hamish Campbell as its Ilam candidate for 2023 election
Catrin Owen (Stuff): Michelle Boag loses Supreme Court fight to keep name secret from high-profile trial
RNZ: Former National Party president Michelle Boag named in connection to high-profile trial
Tim Hunter (NBR): Supreme Court rejects PR consultant’s appeal on name suppression(paywalled)
Phil Smith (RNZ): “Not just for old stuffy white males” Trevor Mallard on Parliament
Jonah Franke-Bowell (Stuff): The people keen to contest Hamilton West in a by-election triggered by Gaurav Sharma

Chris Trotter (Interest): Kiri Allan has got the direction of power and control in NZ completely upside-down
1News: Name suppression system ‘not working’ – Justice Minister
Craig Kapitan (Herald): Kiri Allan targets hate speech, suppression as she settles into justice portfolio
Jarrod Gilbert (Herald): Why I’d happily shout Bill English a beer (paywalled)
Sarah Curtis (Open Justice Reporting): Does a criminal’s ‘appalling upbringing’ require softer punishment?
Tom Kitchin (RNZ): Council at odds with iwi over accommodation plan to keep whānau out of prisons

Michael Neilson (Herald): Green Party calls for one-off windfall tax on record profits in banking, energy, supermarket sectors, redirect into cost of living
1News: Greens propose windfall tax targeting excess profits
Tina Morrison (Stuff): Covid handouts end: 384 business failures in three months
Bernard Hickey: The big banks just can’t stop winning
Sharon Brettkelly (RNZ): Why are banks making big bucks?
Gareth Vaughan (Interest): ANZ Group CEO Shayne Elliott says ANZ NZ doesn’t have to offer the best deposit rates so it doesn’t
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): For God’s sake Grant – windfall tax the bloody banks
Rachel Smalley (Today FM): Why won’t we let essential workers call New Zealand home?
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Uber ruling could pave way for couriers and many others to claim employee rights
Sasha Borissenko (Herald): Will NZ Uber drivers’ Employment Court win lead to broader change? (paywalled)
Henry Cooke (Guardian): New Zealand has just passed a law that will revolutionise workers’ rights. It probably won’t last
Jem Traylen (BusinessDesk): Fair pay agreements – when will we get one? (paywalled)
Martin Gregory (International socialist organisation): Fair Pay Agreements: A Welcome though Imperfect Mercy
Anna Whyte and Thomas Manch (Stuff): Government to spend $61m to lift bus driver wages
Logan Church (1News): Govt announces better conditions for bus drivers
Esther Taunton (Stuff): The low-paid jobs where wages are rising fast
Dileepa Fonseka (Stuff): BusinessNZ chief says workforce burnt out, warns ‘people will die’ if immigration system remains clogged
Carmen Hall (Herald): NZ out of favour: Recruiter at UK job market says no one wanted to move here (paywalled)
Amy Wiliams (RNZ): New millionaire migrants visa category attracts only one wealthy foreigner

Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Here’s what unemployment data this week might mean for interest rates
Liam Dann (Herald): Unemployment Preview: Job market tipped to stay tight, wage growth high (paywalled)
Nona Pelletier (RNZ): Survey expected to show sustained tightness in labour market – economists
David Hargreaves (Interest): Good news or bad news? The RBNZ would prefer ‘bad’
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Stats NZ says it doesn’t have the money to report more frequently on inflation
Jenny Ruth (BusinessDesk): The lessons Australia’s central bank learnt about money-printing (paywalled)
John Roughan (Herald): Govt needs to take lead in fighting inflation, the economic cancer(paywalled)
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Adrian Orr says he has to burn New Zealand to save New Zealand
Lee Kenny (Stuff): More kids need school to help feed them as cost of living spirals
Alwyn Poole (Kiwiblog): NZ’s One Trick Pony Economic Management will not clear the hurdle without huge pain
Eric Crampton (Stuff): Bracket creep is a stealthy and dishonest form of taxation

Rob Stock (Stuff): A house used to cost just three times a household’s income
Greg Ninness (Interest): How times have got tougher for wannabe first home buyers
Heather du Plessis-Allan (Herald): Nothing feels like a bargain as recession looms(paywalled)
Miriam Bell (Stuff): House prices fall: What happens now for building companies?
Catherine Hubbard (Stuff): Motels are not social housing – so what happens when the tourists are back?
Karen Rutherford (Newshub): Woman in Hamilton emergency housing motel refuses to give in to gang’s prostitution and drug threats

Glenn McConnell (Stuff): Local government review calls for Te Tiriti reform – what would that look like?
David Farrar: Local government review recommends ending equality of suffrage
Brendon McMahon (Local Democracy Reporting): ‘Where is the money’: West Coast leaders react to promised local govt reform
Megan Wilson and Kiri Gillespie (Bay of Plenty Times): Local Government review: Proposal to lower voting age
Glenn McConnell (Stuff): Local government review calls for lower voting age, Electoral Commission-run elections
Katie Bradford (1 News): Lower voting age, four-year terms suggested by local govt group
Leighton Heikell (Newshub): Lowering voting age to 16 among significant changes proposed to improve New Zealand’s dismal voter turnout
Janine Rankin (Manawatū Standard): Shakeup for local government proposes widespread change
Conan Young (Local Democracy Reporting): Future for Local Government review recommends more change
Tom Kitchin (RNZ): Region with the highest proportion of Māori now has Māori wards
Simon Wilson (Herald): Decoding Auckland mayor Wayne Brown’s angry letters(paywalled)
Andrea Fox (Herald): Mayor Wayne Brown asks Auckland councillors to support his port stand – after going public on it (paywalled)
Bernard Orsman (Herald): Auckland mayor Wayne Brown calls for ‘radical rethink’ of Super City as he is sworn in
Matthew Scott (Newsroom): Arise, Mayor Wayne
Alison Mau (Stuff): The waterfront gamble: Can Wayne Brown give port land back to Aucklanders?
Matthew Scott (Newsroom): Upcoming conferences to bring $75.5m to Auckland
Rachael Kelly (Stuff): Council declines to reveal possible costs over employment matter with Gore mayor elect’s mum
RNZ: Decision on Gore mayor’s race recount likely this week
Helmut Karewa Modlik (Stuff): Three Waters – time for New Zealanders to decide
Peata Melbourne (Te ao – Māori News): Minister backs improved water quality for marae

Janet Wilson (Stuff): Health looms as a problem for Labour, not National, in 2023
Steven Joyce (Herald): Public health needs new ideas, not same tired old prescription(paywalled)
Bridie Witton (Stuff): Government’s interim health plan will not fix staffing shortages, union says
Tom Kitchin (RNZ): More focus on Te Tiriti O Waitangi as national health plan released
Michael Neilson (Herald): Health NZ unveils plan, Te Pae Tata, to tackle wait times, worker shortages with range of ‘performance measurements’
Mana Wikaire-Lewis (Te Ao – Māori News): Te Pae Tata plan outlines what is needed to improve hauora for whānau
Stephen Forbes (Local Democracy Reporting): Minister of Health told to front up on staff safety concerns at Middlemore
Jamie Morton (Herald): Covid-19: The two peak scenarios modellers are anticipating
Adam Pearse (Herald): ‘Pandemic treaty’: How New Zealand and the world will respond to the next pandemic
RNZ: Parents urged to ensure kids get HPV vax as rates fall
Brianna Mcilraith (Stuff): We don’t take our own toilet paper to work, so why take period products?

Jayden Holmes (Today FM): Pressure mounts on climate conference to implement real change, not just talk
Guy Trafford (Interest): Confusions over HWEN, carbon farming, and sequestration extend to the Minister of Agriculture, laid bare in a troubling radio interview
Zack Dorner (The Conversation): Farmers need certainty over emissions pricing – removing government from the equation might help
Rachael Kelly (Stuff): Farmers count the cost of Government regulation
Penetaui Kleskovich (Stuff): The political hoodwinking over carbon forestry
No Right Turn: Climate Change: Bad news and hope
Tom Powell (Stuff): Every one of us will be personally touched by climate change
Herald Editorial: What do art-splashing stunts say about climate protests? (paywalled)
Fiona Rotherham (NBR): Government rejects calls for a stay on burning waste for energy(paywalled)
Jill Herron (Newsroom): NZ Battery Project has air of déjà vu
John Berry (Stuff): When does green become greenwashing?
Jonathan Leask (Local Democracy Reporting): Mountain of farm waste plastic on the way out
RNZ: Te Urewera huts: Federated Mountain Clubs backs Ngāi Tūhoe’s ‘enlightened’ plans

Isaac Davison (Herald): Green MP Chloe Swarbrick forces Government’s hand on alcohol reform (paywalled)
Isaac Davison (Herald): Supermarkets and bottle stores could face stricter limits on alcohol sales after Government announces reforms
1 News: Kiri Allan reveals how alcohol laws will change
Thomas Manch (Stuff): Alcohol laws set for change with Government addressing ‘booze industry’ imbalance
Newshub: Councils given greater powers to set rules in Government alcohol crackdown
RNZ: Liquor law changes on way to beef up community say
ODT: Where political parties stand on drugs

Chris Trotter (Daily Blog): More Than One Way To Skin A Cat
Tom Pullar-Strecker (RNZ): First step taken to recruit boss for media entity that will replace TVNZ and RNZ
Thomas Cranmer: Is Twitter about to unfollow Ardern?

Jamie Ensor (Newshub): ‘Realistic possibility’ anti-government activists could commit ‘spontaneous act of extremist violence’, warned spies
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Ummmm, the new SIS definitions of terrorist would probably put most people reading this blog on a watch list

Kim Workman (Stuff): Biased policing is still an issue in Aotearoa, but we can break the mould
Stefan Dimitrof (Te Ao – Māori News): Police culture making changes with help from Māori-led research programe

Richard Harman: Go by bus, say MPs to passenger rail advocates
Leonard Powell (RNZ): Air fares: Travellers unhappy at skyrocketing prices

Katrina Shanks (Stuff): How does NZ Super work? And why is the eligibility age such a hot topic?
Rob Stock (Stuff): Reforming a sector: Move to protect the retirement village people

Geraden Cann (Stuff): The 925 properties land banked for treaty settlement
RNZ: Crown apologises to Taranaki iwi Ngāti Maru for ‘horrific’ actions
Stephanie Ockhuysen (Stuff): Andrew Little delivers Crown apology to Ngāti Maru for Treaty breaches
Kelvin McDonald (Te Ao – Māori News): Ngāti Maru rangatahi receive framed copies of land titles at Crown apology in Taranaki

Thomas Cranmer: Te Urewera is not co-governance
Karl du Fresne: Why the culture wars are being lost by default
Katie Doyle (Stuff): Stolen babies: Unwed mothers forced to give up children demand government apology
Maria Slade (NBR): Callaghan director resigns over ‘conflict of values’ (paywalled)
Steve Braunias (Newsroom): Prof wants Māori apology
Damien Grant (Stuff): The good things we gained from colonialism
Joel Maxwell (Stuff): To fight racism, we need to start at the beginning: with our own name
Paula Bennett (Herald): ‘We need to pull together to get the best out of our people and this country’ (paywalled)
Brian Easton (Pundit): How Are We Covered For Earthquakes?
Michelle Duff (Stuff): New Zealand’s ‘gender care gap’: Women do more at home than men, and men more likely to think that’s fair
RNZ: Greyhound racing industry’s future still hangs in the balance – minister
Tess McClure (Guardian): New Zealand women to be able to access abortion over the phone
TVNZ: US healthcare workers flock to NZ amid abortion debate
Waatea News: Dawkins denies science evolution