Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Leaders swap praise and promises

John Key and wife Bronagh meet Colombia's President Jose Manuel Santos and his wife Maria Clemencia at  El Narino Palace in Bogota. Photo / Claire Trevett/NZ Herald
John Key and wife Bronagh meet Colombia's President Jose Manuel Santos and his wife Maria Clemencia at El Narino Palace in Bogota. Photo / Claire Trevett/NZ Herald

The thin air in the high altitudes of Mexico City did little to diminish the great wafts of mutual admiration puffing out after the meeting between Prime Minister John Key and his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Little in the way of concrete gains came from yesterday's meeting, but Mr Key seemed satisfied.

He'd touched base with Mexico's new President and secured support for New Zealand's bid for the Security Council seat in 2015. Mr Pena Nieto had also made encouraging noises about expanding trade with New Zealand.

Mr Key discovered they had a meeting of minds over the need for the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement to have as few exemptions and tariffs as possible - although he couldn't resist pointing out in a statement afterward that Mexico still had tariffs of more than 60 per cent on some goods.

He also extended an invitation to the President to visit New Zealand, which Mr Pena Nieto indicated he was likely to take up next month.

As far as the mutual admiration society was concerned, Mr Pena Nieto proved such a master of flattery that Mr Key must have wondered which country he was leading.

In Mr Pena Nieto's hands, New Zealand was a role model in international diplomacy and had a vigorous civil society. It had a wonderful landscape and respect for the environment. It was tolerant, pluralistic, had an inclusive society and a dynamic economy.

In return, Mr Key praised Mr Pena Nieto's ambition of bringing prosperity to Mexico and sympathised with his goal to push through reforms, including controversial changes to education which have outraged unions and prompted large protests.

"Like all leaders, we all have challenges, but I think Mexico will be in good hands under your leadership."

The setting for the opening was stunning, held in front of the dramatic Castillo de Chapultepec high above Mexico City. The meeting itself was held in a room with a sweeping Diego Riviera mural.

The military band charged with playing the national anthems even managed to make New Zealand's rather subdued anthem sound like a stirring call to nationhood.

Some sympathy was spared for the English to Spanish translator charged with translating Mr Key's address, accent and mumbles included. He did at least spare her from his infamous neologisms, now known as Key-ologisms.

The most entertainment was to be had from the name pronunciation - John Key became 'Junkay' in Spanish - while his pronunciation of Mr Pena Nieto's wife's name Angelica as Anyalga also raised eyebrows.

At times Mr Key came across as the travelling salesman for the car yard of New Zealand.

Addressing an audience of Mexican business people, he set out the case for investing in New Zealand, using the free-trade agreement with China as leverage.

KEY WON'T ATTEND CHAVEZ FUNERAL

Prime Minister John Key has rejigged his schedule in Latin America so Chile's President Sebastian Pinera can attend Hugo Chavez's funeral, but will not sidetrack to attend the funeral himself, saying New Zealand did not have a strong political relationship with Venezuela.

Mr Key was due to meet Mr Pinera on Saturday at 10am (NZ time) - but that meeting will now happen a day later to enable Mr Pinera to attend the funeral of the late Venezuela President Hugo Chavez.

However, Mr Pinera is expected to return to Chile straight after that funeral for the state dinner being held in Mr Key's honour.

Mr Key said New Zealand will send a representative to the funeral, but had not considered diverting from his Latin America tour to attend himself because of the logistical difficulties given his other functions.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully was currently in Egypt and would decide who was best to attend.

"We haven't had a political relationship of any great note with Venezuela. Realistically it's been a trade relationship and that's about it. So it would be an unusual thing to send a Prime Minister under those circumstances. We will probably assess what is happening around the region with our counterparts, but in the end the Foreign Minister will decide."

Mr Key said his condolences went to the Chavez family and the people of Venezuela. He said Mr Chavez had a very "left wing agenda" for his country which was widely supported there.

"It's obviously a sad moment for Venezuela and the people of Venezuela, I'm sure they will miss him greatly."

He had not personally met Mr Chavez, but had heard him speak at the United Nations.

"He was no fan of Westernised capitalism, that's for sure."

He did not believe New Zealand's decision to send a representative would upset the United States, which had an acrimonious relationship with Chavez.

Mr Key said Venezuela imported a lot of milk powder from New Zealand and he did not expect that to change.

Mr Key and the trade delegation travelling with him arrived in Bogota, Colombia early this morning and he is due to meet with Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos today at El Narino Palace.

It is the first time the two have met - and has added significance because it is the first visit by a New Zealand Prime Minister to Colombia.

His first stop for the day was to the renowned exclusive Club El Nogal, which was bombed in 2003. Security at the Club was tight, with armed guards outside and explosives sniffer dogs checking bags as people entered.

Mr Key said he expected to announce that New Zealand will support Colombia's wish to be an OECD country and the discussions would also focus on areas in which the relationship could be deepened, such as agriculture, education and investment.

Colombia had already indicated support for New Zealand's bid for the Security Council seat in 2015.

He said he had enjoyed his meeting yesterday with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, describing him as "thoroughly charming".

However, Mr Key feigned ignorance when asked about the beauty of Mr Pena Nieto's wife - a stunning actress.

"I didn't notice," he said, when asked before adding "Bronagh told me to say that."

- NZ Herald

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