Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young: Diplomacy begins on home front

Mike Moore. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Mike Moore. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Half a lifetime ago, in 1972, Mike Moore was the new young thing in politics, having won the marginal seat of Eden for Labour at the age of 23 - despite a vigorous campaign against him by opponents including the bearded 18-year-old Young National activist Murray McCully.

There were no hard feelings then - McCully ended up at Moore's all-night celebrations.

The sentiment of good will has never left them and yesterday National Foreign Minister Murray McCully named Moore, 61 next week, as the new ambassador to the United States.

On the conservative side of the Labour Party, Moore has always nurtured close relationships across the political spectrum - one of the reasons he was asked to do the job.

As a seasoned former politician of the centre-left and a former director-general of the World Trade Organisation, he has the skills and the contact book at a crucial time in New Zealand's trade relationship with the US.

The fact that President Barack Obama announced in November the United States' willingness to enter talks for the Trans Pacific Partnership is no guarantee that a free trade agreement will result.

The talks start in Melbourne in March for four countries including the US to join the present four-way trade pact, and Obama's ambition would be to have a deal done by the time he hosts Apec in November 2011.

But even then, a deal could gather dust, as others have, without the support of both houses of Congress. And their support could depend on how well the deal is received by interest groups including unions and the agriculture sector.

Moore has connections already with all of them, as well as within the Obama Administration.

Those he doesn't know and needs to know will probably open their doors a little quicker to him than they otherwise would.

The win by the Republican candidate yesterday in the Massachusetts Senate seat formerly held by the late Ted Kennedy will add to the jitters the Obama Administration has over potentially electorally unpopular policies - such as free trade deals.

In that sense, the loss reinforces the importance of the decision to appoint Moore.

Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger welcomed the appointment yesterday as chairman of the US-NZ Council.

The pair co-chaired the last partnership forum in October in Washington.

Bolger is also a former ambassador to Washington, a posting he got after Jenny Shipley took over as Prime Minister in 1998.

The appointments aren't exactly reciprocal - Bolger was appointed by National and kept on by Labour then brought back to an appointment as head of NZ Post and Kiwibank in particular, a bank National had opposed.

The test for Moore in his new role will be to think bilaterally - and regionally with the Trans Pacific Partnership - when his thinking since his WTO job has been geared globally.

McCully launched Moore's latest book, Saving Globalization, jointly with Labour leader Phil Goff, who backs the appointment.

At the event, Moore talked about how he had a debate with his publisher about whether he should be called a former Prime Minister - given that he served only 90 days in the role in 1990.

Moore isn't that fond of being reminded that he was the shortest-serving Prime Minister in 100 years.

It is a title Moore will hear a lot of in the United States where they routinely call people by former titles - Bill Clinton is still President Clinton.

It may become confusing when, if Prime Minister John Key gets an invitation to the White House, his ambassador in Washington is "Prime Minister Mike Moore".

Confusing or amusing, but assuredly there will be no hard feelings about it.

- NZ Herald

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Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor, a job she has held since 2003. She is responsible for the Herald’s Press Gallery team. She first joined the New Zealand Herald in 1988 as a sub-editor after the closure of its tabloid rival, the Auckland Sun. She switched to reporting in 1991 as social welfare and housing reporter. She joined the Herald’s Press Gallery office in 1994. She has previously worked as a journalism tutor at Manukau Technical Institute, as member of the Newspapers in Education unit at Wellington Newspapers and as a teacher in Wellington. She was a union nominee on the Press Council for six years.

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