The annual trans-Tasman Prime Ministers' meeting, hosted by New Zealand in Queenstown this weekend, will be different from the last one.

On that occasion, in Sydney, Malcolm Turnbull invited his old business colleague John Key to stay at his mansion and they went canoeing on the harbour. In their talks Turnbull agreed to a special path to citizenship for New Zealand expatriates who had been earning above the average wage for five years.

This time New Zealand has a new Prime Minister and they have a common external problem to discuss. Their talks are bound to be haunted by the spectre of US President Donald Trump.

Both Prime Ministers have responded to his withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership with statements of intent to see the agreement survive among the remaining 11 signatories.


But Bill English has gone so far as to indicate little interest in a bilateral trade agreement with the United States in its place. It would be good to hear Turnbull say the same, but unlikely.

Australian trade policy-makers have long seemed more willing than New Zealand's to do lopsided deals with powerful allies such as the US and Japan. Even when the TPP was in the throes of difficult final negotiations, Australia did a bilateral agreement with Japan.

Now it is more important than ever that smaller trading nations do not try to do individual deals with the US as they discover the meaning of "America first".

This president has bluntly stated his belief in protection and his determination to renegotiate treaties such as the Nafta (North American Free Trade Agreement) with Canada and America.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was meeting Trump yesterday, is arguing for the preservation of the status quo as far his country is concerned. That may be the best any country can get from the US for the next four years.

Australia will no doubt be well ahead of New Zealand on the White House invitation list despite the phone call from Trump that turned hostile when Turnbull held the new Administration to a refugee resettlement deal agreed with the previous one.

It is unlikely a new America First deal with Australia would be any better for Australia than the previous one, but that is always a risk when smaller countries break ranks. Trump would not be the first US President to make trade agreements for strategic, rather than economic purposes and favour its most reliable allies.

Turnbull may be less likely than the Prime Minister he displaced, Tony Abbott, to lean towards strategic interests ahead of global economic considerations but Turnbull seems not in a strong position to decide Australia's priorities at present.

Last year's double-dissolution election left his Government weaker and depending on support from parties such as Pauline Hanson's One Nation in the Senate.

The rise of protectionist, anti-immigration conservatism is not confined the US these days. English, too, may have to deal with it if Winston Peters polls significantly this year.

The two Prime Ministers, who have both replaced their parties' originally elected leaders, face similar domestic challenges and it is to be hoped they can make common cause to promote sound economics and the benefits of trade at home and abroad.