Fran O'Sullivan: Trump presidency will dominate talks between NZ and Aussie leaders

"How the hell do we deal with Donald Trump?" Top item at the upcoming New Zealand and Australian prime ministers' talks - you betcha.

The formal agenda meeting between Bill English and Malcolm Turnbull won't highlight the biggest issue in international affairs quite that way.

But the ramifications of the Trump presidency will dominate talks between the New Zealand and Australian prime ministers at their meeting in Queenstown in a fortnight's time.

Since Trump was inaugurated he has collapsed the TPP - which NZ and Australia as well as the US were signatories to in Auckland just one year ago today; he has signalled possible border taxes; made clear other countries can shoulder more of the refugee burden; pony up more for defence ... the list increases daily.

This is a major inflexion point in international affairs which will have ramifications for the world order; it will impact Governmental budgets - particularly for defence; and also New Zealand business strategies.

Just one example here, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare's decision that it will consider switching factories making products bound for the United States from Mexico to New Zealand if the Trump' Administration taxes Mexican imports.

True to form English - whose style is best described as laconic compared to his Australian counterpart's patrician air - has played down leaked reports of the phone call between Trump and "Trumble" as the President's spokesman Sean Spicer appeared to mispronounce.

Leaked reports say the US President cut short his call with Turnbull after 25 minutes instead of the allotted one hour.

The President later railed on Twitter about the "dumb deal" which will see the US take 1250 refugees from Australia - a deal signed with his predecessor Barack Obama.

At the time of writing, the timing of a Trump-English call was not known. But if Turnbull's experience sets any precedent, English could expect to be verbally reamed out over any bilateral wrinkles that Trump might feel have caused a slight on his presidency.

The only potential issue that springs to mind for the Trump-English call is New Zealand's decision to co-sponsor the UN Security Council resolution condemning the expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.

Trump had earlier convinced Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi not to sponsor the resolution, which was passed at the fag end of the Obama presidency. But New Zealand stepped up (with three other co-sponsors) and the resolution was passed with the US abstaining.

That Trump has now signalled that Israel should stop the West Bank expansion may have mitigated that particular risk to the smooth climate for the English call.

English could have expected to be verbally reamed out over any recent bilateral wrinkles that Trump might feel have caused a slight on his presidency.

Trump clearly is mercurial. But the transtasman prime ministers have to find a way to deal with the risk he poses to old certainties.

John Howard - the long-serving former Liberal Prime Minister of Australia - can be expected to share some insights on this score when in Wellington next week for a transtasman celebratory dinner.

Howard is a shrewd observer of the political game. He is an exercise in calm. He knows that stronger immigration and border controls are electorally popular.

English - is not expected to be at the dinner. But Howard and English are likely to have a private meeting.

The TPP will also be on the agenda at the Queenstown meeting on February 17.

Trade Minister Todd McClay flies to Australia tomorrow to meet his counterpart Steven Ciobo to try and thrash out what can be reprised from the TPP deal.

McClay - who has been asked by English to get out and talk to other TPP partners - will then fly on for meetings in Japan, Singapore and Mexico and take soundings to help inform the leaders' meeting.

Transtasman business will also be discussed, particularly the single economic market agenda.

Carnival Australia chief executive Ann Sherry and Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood will meet the two prime ministers.

Sherry recently took over as the Australian co-chair for the Australian New Zealand Leadership Forum; Littlewood is the NZ co-chair.

The Forum brings together over 200 chief executives from the largest transtasman companies to engage with both Governments on initiatives to strengthen NZ's $24 billion trade and economic relationship with Australia.

At last year's forum English - then Finance Minister - was accompanied by Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, Trade Minister Todd McClay, Customs Minister Nicky Wagner, and Commerce Minister Paul Goldsmith.

Seventy five per cent of New Zealand exporters generate income in Australia, so it is vital that we keep the transtasman economy energised", English said then.

While English says the NZ economy will be at the heart of the 2017 general election on September 23 - the tumultuous changes that will be wrought by the Trump presidency will impact on domestic debate and politics as the run-up to the election year passes.

Labour has five big issues it will concentrate on - housing, health, education, work and security.

English was in business-as-usual mode at his own State of the Nation address this week.

It was a somewhat disappointing performance. He needs to zero in on the ramifications of the Trump presidency and let business know how he will deal with it.

- NZ Herald

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Head of Business for NZME

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

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