Every time I crossed a border in South America these past few weeks I was glad to be from New Zealand. All my travelling companions were from other places, Australia mostly. When we came to a border they had to pay something called a "reciprocity" fee or produce a receipt proving they had paid it. For me, the passport was enough.

The others thought it attractive with its fern on the edge and I was too modest, of course, to tell them its real attraction was the doors it opened without fuss, without cost, without so much as a visa needed in advance. They were fumbling with currencies and documents because their governments imposed the same demands on citizens of other countries. Mine didn't.

At times like this New Zealand feels like the most open, free and worldly country in creation, which it may well be. We hardly ever celebrate this. Most New Zealanders are probably not even aware of it. Those who worry about our immigration in recent years and wonder that John Key's Government has allowed it, might be surprised to know how deeply he believes New Zealand's best interests lie in being as open to the world as we can be.

Helen Clark's Government was hardly less committed to the principle, advancing free trade deals wherever possible, most of them led by the minister who is now Mayor of Auckland. So it was disappointing to arrive home on Tuesday morning, pick up the paper and find Phil Goff on the front page asking for a bed tax on tourists.

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If Goff is going to spend his mayoralty pleading for more revenue sources it's going to be tedious. He shouldn't be proposing anything yet, he should be going through the council administration with a fine-tooth comb, asking questions about the need for every staff member, the work they do and how they do it. If he needs extra revenue for the living wage he wants to pay or anything else, it starts there.

He wants the bed tax, evidently, to fund Ateed, the city's agency for promoting tourism and subsidising events. Its dubious value becomes more questionable if it starts adding a cost to the industry, a cost that could invite reciprocal charges against New Zealanders in other countries. This country is doing very well, leading the way in openness, global integration, "connectness" as Key calls it.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Chile, Argentina and Brazil was to compare countries on the same continent that have followed divergent economic directions. The Pacific side of South America is being governed by neoliberal prescriptions. Chile, Peru and Mexico are in the TPP. Colombia would like to be. The Atlantic side is protective.

Argentina and Brazil are partners in an old fashioned trade bloc, closed and abysmally misgoverned. Along with trade protection and nationalised industries they have corruption, inflation and crippling debt as well as poverty, visible inequality and cynical politics. Too many of their populace have been convinced their country's problems can be blamed on its creditors, who cruelly expect repayment with interest for the capital their governments have squandered.

At times like this New Zealand feels like the most open, free and worldly country in creation, which it may well be.

In Chile they at least knew what free trade and floating currencies are. Across the Andes, these seemed to be unknown concepts. They believe all countries have industry protection much like theirs. On the arid Argentine side of the divide, we tasted Malbec so good I would have ordered a case if it was possible to have it sent home. The winery would not believe this to be possible.

This time last century Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries per-capita in the world. Its best days can be seen in the stately Parisian buildings and boulevards of Buenos Aires. And just a few years ago Brazil was one of the big "emerging economies" that were going to emulate China.

Rio still feels prosperous when you are sitting in a bar on Copacabana Beach at sunset enjoying Brazilians' easy exuberance, whether they are doing backflip kicks with soccer balls on the sand or getting in your face to sell souvenirs. Even in a favela the police have made safe for a guided visit, an economy that appears to be thriving.

In Rio, you can almost escape the cloud that has come over open, trading countries. The voters of the US and UK have delivered twin blows to the economic orthodoxy that has governed the Anglosphere for nearly 40 years.

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Over on the Pacific side of South America, Apec leaders were meeting and sending a message to the next American president that a rejection of the TPP would surrender economic leadership of the region to China. The New York Times picked it up.

Tourism is booming, the internet is boundless, globalisation cannot be outvoted. Our enviable passport is the way to go.