Steven Joyce is betting that US President Donald Trump will turn out to be "more orthodox" than people think.

Joyce doesn't buy into alarmist posturing about Trump.

The new finance minister told me yesterday: "That won't mean it won't have some rough edges."

"The great thing about being in New Zealand in this context is that we're quite small. And sometimes smallness can be a strength because you're not a threat to anybody. Whether that is the US or China or wherever.


Irrespective, he says, there is bound to be some realignment of the approaches taken by the US and others on the international front which will require New Zealand to maintain a strong external focus.

"You can also find niches where you can be successful almost despite the big things going on in the world. Besides dairy, we don't have to have a big market share of any particular export.

"We just have to be able to find our niches and exploit them. Small countries have the advantage where if they do it well, they have flexibility and nimbleness."

Joyce's stance mirrors that of John Key who before he resigned as Prime Minister had started downplaying business fears that the Trump Administration would turn deeply protectionist.

Already the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has had a briefing session with the Cabinet's current "export ministers" on potential approaches to New Zealand's prime relationships.

Joyce - who was the first minister to be confirmed in his portfolio by Bill English after the latter was elected National's leader - hopes to continue his association with that group.

"I think for New Zealand's perspective, it is going to be important for the Prime Minister, Finance Minister, Trade Minister, Foreign Affairs to be talking and building relationships, or maintain relationships, with all the key trade partnerships, as we go through what is bound to be a realignment of the approaches taken by the US and others. It is important that we do maintain that."

MFAT and the export ministers group is already formulating a plan. But it awaits English's confirmation on Sunday on just who will hold the other key portfolios in the export space.

Joyce's own interest is in the emerging markets - particularly South-East Asia and South America - where he has considerable expertise to share from his years holding the economic development portfolio and acting as English's "sidekick" when the latter was Finance Minister.

The great thing about being in New Zealand in this context is that we're quite small. And sometimes smallness can be a strength because you're not a threat to anybody.

This week the Government's last big gun in the external relations space bowed out leaving big shoes to fill.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully confirmed he will not stand at the next election. This provides English with the opportunity to either award the prime portfolio to another Cabinet Minister, or, blood a replacement by transitioning a more junior minister as an associate for a few months first.

McCully's decision comes on top of the departure of John Key - who was New Zealand's "face" in international capitals - as Prime Minister.

And the resignation in late 2015 by Tim Groser as Trade Negotiations Minister to become NZ's Ambassador in Washington.

All three politicians have been accomplished and long-standing players offshore.

English is well across McCully's work having insisted that key Cabinet committees had input into the external relations space after the fracas of the restructuring at Mfat.

It takes a while to build a pedigree on the international front.


Todd McClay is fast growing into the trade portfolio. He is also endeavouring to reforge a bi-partisan approach to trade. He called on NZ First Leader Winston Peters' expertise as a former New Zealand Foreign Minister by taking him on a recent European mission, and, took Labour's trade spokesman David Clarke with him to Iran.

Trump's decision to oppose the United States' participation in the TPP means NZ's regional priorities will be in flux.

Trump's decision to oppose the United State's participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership means NZ's regional priorities will be in flux. It is possible the TPP partners may offer an opportunity to China to plug in to the regional agreement.

If that occurs, New Zealand - as the repository for the TPP - will have a critical role to play.

The new Finance Minister jests that his colleagues might find him "more tight" than his predecessor. Even on policies he previously championed.

"We had a few meetings with economic ministers this week, and I did say that I suddenly feel quite different about the proposal than I did recently, and I just can't put my finger on why."

"I'm somebody that has been asked more than once if I will be as tight. I think you just have to make sure you keep everybody understanding the big picture as well as the individual initiatives. And I think in government - as there are in most things - there are plenty of great ideas, but you only get to do some of them."


There is a policy stock take in the first couple of months in 2017 which may result in some new priorities.

Like English before him in the finance portfolio, Joyce is expected to have oversight of infrastructure. This has particular importance given the Kaikoura earthquake.

He is also likely to have two associate finance ministers when the Prime Minister confirms his Cabinet lineup on Sunday.

Currently, Paula Bennett is an associate finance minister.

But with her elevation to become Deputy Prime Minister it is at this stage unclear what portfolios she will hold.

For Joyce's part he stresses that New Zealand is travelling pretty well "and of course the rest of the world is looking a little bit more fragile".