Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

What a Trump presidency would mean to NZ

Donald Trump has intimated he would pull out of a major trade deal with New Zealand and wants to shake-up the way the United States deals with both allies and enemies.

But predicting what a Trump presidency would mean for New Zealand is difficult, said Associate Professor Stephen Hoadley, international relations scholar at the University of Auckland.

What is certain is that New Zealand is not on Trump's radar, he said.

"He'll have to be told where New Zealand is. In contrast to other candidates he has zero knowledge of things in this part of the world.

"He will ignore New Zealand unless one of his advisers brings it to his attention. So New Zealand Ambassador in Washington Tim Groser is going to have to work quite hard to penetrate the thicket of rhetoric and appointees, to get through."

The TPP

One of the more immediate impacts on the US-New Zealand relationship could be the US pulling back from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump has been strongly critical of the mammoth trade deal, as has his democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

The Obama Administration wants to get the agreement ratified before he leaves office, but it is unclear if that will happen.

If Trump follows through on his talk, he could become the unlikely hero of the anti-TPP movement in New Zealand.

Prime Minister John Key has dismissed that prospect, telling Q+A that Trump's opposition to the deal was simply because it had been made under Obama.

"It's all nonsense," Key said. "He'll come out there if he becomes President of the United States of America and he will say 'I'm reforming this little bit of TPP.' And he'll say miraculously that all now makes it great and he'll sign it."

NZ International Business Forum executive director Stephen Jacobi isn't so sure, and said it was impossible to know what Trump would do if he were elected.

"He has said a number of things during the election campaign that are completely impossible to implement, like the wall between United States and Mexico, or even applying a tariff to Chinese goods - that is not possible under the WTO [World Trade Organisation] rules.

"But if one took him at his word TPP, if not already passed through the lame duck session at the end of the year, TPP will presumably go back to the drawing board."

Jacobi said pulling back from the deal would be a complicated move and badly let down 11 allies.

"He would be taking on quite a major foreign policy issue very early on in the presidency. Given the other things he's been saying, it might be the least of his concerns."

More demands

New Zealand would also likely be asked to commit more troops and money to combat the Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq under a Trump presidency.

After Trump delivered a speech on foreign policy last month, an editorial in The New York Times called his worldview "strange", saying his approach resembled a scene from his reality television show The Apprentice, with him demanding more money, troops and policy changes from allies.

"Mr Trump says he knows how to negotiate, and to him that seems to mean putting forward maximal positions that he can then walk back," the editorial stated.

Hoadley said that, given the Obama Administration wanted New Zealand to do more in Iraq, Trump would certainly push for even more.

Superpower tension and unpredictability

Trump has been critical of China during the campaign, and any increase in tension between the two superpowers would be felt in the Pacific, where China is in dispute with countries over islands in the South China Sea.

That would increase pressure on New Zealand.

During last month's visit to China by Key, China's state news agency Xinhua warned the Prime Minister to steer clear of talking about the South China Sea disputes if he wants any traction in trade talks.

Jacobi believes Trump won't follow through on his more extreme comments, such as threats to impose 45 per cent tariffs on all imports from China.

"There is enormous US business interest in China ... it is American businesses that are established in China, there is enormous integration between the two economies.

"I don't believe anybody in the business community around the world actually believes that Trump will do what he says he is going to do."

Hoadley said that because of Trump's unpredictability, New Zealand officials would need to be nimble and adapt quickly to any changes. However, mid-level US officials would resist any radical change, and relationships at that level would continue.

"These permanent civil servants have a good impression of New Zealand ... and the optimistic-view would be, at that level, business as usual."

Something similar occurred during the dispute over nuclear armed and powered ship visits to New Zealand, Hoadley said, when top-level contact was cut but relationships amidst lower-level officials remained strong and continued.

He said Trump could well delegate a lot of the decision-making to others who would run the country without radical changes, despite Trump still using radical rhetoric.

"US policy may actually be pretty stable. Even though the rhetoric may be outrageous, unpredictable, colourful, enchanting. It will be showbiz, but even showbiz has serious people who do budgets and property management.

"If he says, 'Get on with it, I don't want to be bothered with the detail' - like Reagan did in some respects - then all could be not too bad. That's my optimistic scenario."

The last word goes to Trump. When Newshub political editor Patrick Gower got a question in at a Trump press conference in March, he asked what sort of president the property mogul would be for the world.

In a long response that included an attack on Hillary Clinton, Trump eventually addressed the question: "I'll be a good president for the world -- even you will be proud of me."

- NZ Herald

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