COMMENT:

When I arrived as US Ambassador to New Zealand a little over a year ago, I set my top goal to strengthen the partnership between New Zealand and United States, especially on trade and commerce.

Last week, President Donald Trump signed into law the Knowledgeable Innovators and Worthy Investors Act (or KIWI Act), which makes Kiwis eligible for a whole new class of visas for trade and investment.

This is a big deal. As I've travelled around New Zealand and talked to business groups, a top concern I've heard from Kiwis is getting access to this visa.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in her statement heralding the news: "The US is critically important to New Zealand's interests and this Act will help develop closer economic ties with the US."

The New Zealand United States Council agreed, noting that Kiwi businesses and entrepreneurs have urged for this action for years, and that access to these visas will "lower barriers to their success" in the growing United States economy.

There's another reason to celebrate. Before reaching the White House, the KIWI Act passed with overwhelming, bipartisan backing through the US Congress - both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In fact, both Democrats and Republicans sponsored the bill and helped push it through. This is a reflection of the broad and unshakable support across the US Government for the New Zealand-United States partnership.

While President Trump reset some US trade policy when he took office, he also made clear we remain committed to free and fair trade and he encouraged discussions about, in his words, "measures designed to promote more efficient markets and higher levels of economic growth".

The KIWI Act is just one example of how the US-New Zealand trade and investment relationship is strong, fair, and growing. When you look at our overall trading relationship, including goods and services, there is a striking balance. Our commerce is largely unimpeded, flourishing and growing each year. We provide New Zealand with high-quality and high-value products such as machinery and aircraft parts. You are significant users and importers of financial services that US firms offer.

Our Governments are in constant motion to improve trade. A few weeks ago, the United States Trade Representatives hosted discussions under the US-New Zealand Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with counterparts from MFAT. This is a long way of saying we restarted bilateral trade talks, one step towards more formal trade liberalisation.

In June, I led a delegation of Kiwi businesses to Washington DC to participate in SelectUSA, the flagship US trade summit that connects Kiwi businesses with trade and investment opportunities across our 50 States.

I'm also happy to report other sectors in our economic relations are thriving. An obvious sector is tourism, as last year New Zealand had an overall increase in tourist arrivals of 7.4 per cent, with the largest growth coming from the United States.

This flow of people includes educational opportunities as well, which are at the heart of the people-to-people exchanges that keep our countries close. More than 1700 Kiwi students chose to study in the United States last year, an all-time high, with the number of US students choosing New Zealand as a study abroad destination increasing more than 14 per cent.

As two proud and productive agricultural countries, it makes sense that our food and drink trade is booming, with our opposite seasons generating a lot of complementary agricultural trade.

Americans can't get enough of New Zealand wine and beef - we're now the biggest importer of your world-renowned food and drink. Your firms are thriving in our backyard, and we both are benefiting from this free flow of commerce. I was especially proud when our Governments collaborated on access for US cooked turkey into New Zealand. As New Zealand wine and beef makes its way on to American dinner tables, your software companies make apps that Americans want, and our businesses are also coming to New Zealand, where they find transparency, a track record of ingenuity and creativity, and an easy place to do business.

In fact, the United States is the biggest investor in science and innovation in New Zealand. It is a logical fit that global infrastructure giant AECOM has come here to work in engineering and design, employing 700 staff in its New Zealand offices.

US manufacturers of high quality American agricultural machinery such as Caterpillar, John Deere, and Massey Fergusson increased exports almost 30 per cent last year. We are proud that the latest US farm equipment is playing a major role in agriculture and horticulture here - critical export sectors for New Zealand growers.

We benefit from New Zealand investment looking for great opportunities abroad as well. Fonterra has made large investments in the United States and Burger Fuel is even taking on the daunting task of selling hamburgers to Americans.

Your innovative companies and start-ups are expanding in the US tech sector - a proven incubator for bringing new ideas to market, a strong champion of intellectual property rights, and a big promoter of cyber security.

These trade successes tell us that we're a lot alike. We share an entrepreneurial spirit, pioneering curiosity, and a drive to succeed.

We work together around the world on our common commercial priorities, like promoting intellectual property rights and building bridges between investors and opportunities that generate jobs.

Every day I think about how we can make the US-New Zealand trading relationship stronger.

One of best parts of my job has been getting the chance to travel in this beautiful country and talk to businesses, chambers of commerce, and New Zealanders from all walks of life about how we can find more ways to work together.

My team and I are constantly promoting new ways to expand our strong relationship, like making investment easier, launching trade delegations, connecting US and New Zealand businesses, and supporting young local entrepreneurs with grants and sponsorship programmes.

I'm looking forward to helping generate even more trade and investment opportunities in 2018 and learning from New Zealanders how we can become even better partners in the future.