Holmes a surprise guest on Free Trade Agreement delegation

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If you were wondering why Paul Holmes wasn't doing his normal Monday morning phone in interview with Helen Clark this morning on Newstalk ZB - it's because he's up here in Beijing getting the low down on how to export to China.
Holmes is one of the more unusual members of the big delegation that has come up to witness the signing of the Chinese free trade agreement (FTA) at the Great Hall of the People at 11.30am (Beijing time). The Newstalk host has developed a sideline in making olive oil under his own brand 'Paul Holmes'. "Wish I'd got on to this years ago," he told me.
Helen Clark signalled out Victor Percival - an 'old China hand' - for special mention when she spoke to the business delegation at their 'mix and mingle' at the Sofitel Hotel last night. Percival - and former Labour Trade Minister Warren Freer who was also present, were in on the ground in China during the 1970s when Chairman Mao's regime began establishing external links.
The delegation certainly covers the full range of NZ business. Everyone from the chairman of New Zealand's biggest exporter through to a baker from Opotiki.
Clark emphasized the upside for NZ exporters.
But she also indicated she wouldn't shirk from raising human rights - and the situation in Tibet - when she meets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao later today.
It's fair to say Air NZ's business class cabin 'rocked' on the lengthy flight up to Narita airport on Saturday. Percival and Holmes were on the flight along with several senior business people which included Maori representatives who made no secret of their impatience at the Maori Party's intransigent opposition to the FTA.


Trade Minister Phil Goff was head down for much of the trip working his way through a 300 page brief that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade had put together for him on the Chinese FTA. Unlike Foreign Minister Winston Peters - who prefers officials to condense briefs to just a few succinct pages - Goff is a detail man.
Air NZ's boss Rob Fyfe is another workhorse. Fyfe dealt to 400 emails on the way up.
Others on the trip (a personal confession here) simply caught up on the latest movies.
Despite the jet lag (we didn't get into Beijing to 1.30am yesterday morning) the delegation was still fizzing when Goff briefed them on the details of the free trade deal late yesterday. The wraps don't come off the detail until 4.30pm today.
But the mood at last night's cocktail function was celebratory.
Fonterra chairman Henry van der Heyden was upbeat. The phase out of Chinese tariffs on dairy products is slightly longer than the cooperative wanted. But they will still reduce to zero giving New Zealand a competitive advantage against some major competitors.
For many of the business people this will be their first visit to the Great Hall of the People and the first time they will have seen Premier Wen Jiabao close up.
Postscript: Holmes' arrival caught New Zealand Trade and Enterprise staff on the hop.
He wasn't down as an official member of the delegation - but had come up as a guest of Air NZ. NZTE have managed to squeeze him into tonight's celebratory dinner. About 600 people will turn up at the Sofitel hotel to toast the FTA. There will be some sore heads tomorrow for those not used to Chinese wine and maotai.

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