Key brings credentials as one of fastest-growing economies in 2014 to global powerbrokers’ table.

For the first time in many years a New Zealand prime minister will join global powerbrokers in chilly Davos for the annual World Economic Forum (WEF).

John Key - still in holiday mode - released an anodyne one-liner about his expectations from this week's WEF.

"Davos is an ideal platform to engage with key international influencers, on a wide range of issues of global importance, as well as to meet bilaterally with international counterparts," he said.

Few New Zealand reporters have made the trek to the Swiss mountain resort. With 2500 or so politicians, business people, international media and thought-leaders of all persuasions attending this year's forum, accommodation costs are expensive and access for the NZ press delegation is limited to when Key is taking part in sessions as a "contributor".


But the publicity will rark up as Key puts his take on this year's forum themes and the outcomes of his various bilaterals with political leaders at Davos.

Some big hitters are expected: According to the WEF they include Germany's Angela Merkel, China's Le Keqiang , France's Francois Hollande and US Secretary of State John Kerry among 40 heads of state and government.

It's inevitable that Key will have a chance to talk up the New Zealand story during sessions on the global economic recovery.

New Zealand sported one of the fastest-growing economies in the OECD last year.

Despite the transient gloom over projected low dairy commodity returns, overall growth projections remain rosy for 2015 with HSBC's Paul Bloxham - once again capitalising on his slick branding of New Zealand as a "rock star" economy last year - yesterday forecasting an "encore": "NZ set to outperform again" with construction activity supporting GDP growth of 3 per cent this year.

Big picture issues are on the forum's agenda with the digital economy, climate change and gender equality highlighted along with a reprise of previous forums' concentration on inequality.

These include the "second economy" (a term coined by economist W. Brian Arthur for the replacement of people with technology as a result of the tech revolution). The Key Government has not paid much attention to this issue but it is one that Labour leader Andrew Little has put at the top of "future thinking" for his caucus.

Climate change also poses challenges. Cabinet minister Tim Groser - a frequent attendee at Davos and there again this week for informal world trade ministerials - spruiks the "NZ solution" to the global agenda. But NZ is still a recalcitrant when it comes to matching reality to the rhetoric.


When it comes to closing the gender imbalance in the international business world, the metrics for female participation on boards - including New Zealand - are still underwhelming.

So too, the female participation at Davos with women making up just 15 per cent of attendees in 2014 - something that UNDP head and former NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark (who now goes regularly to Davos) has commented on.

Key's reaction to the WEF's action plan for tackling rising inequality will be relevant.

The forum has been chided before for allowing itself to play host to elitist verbal hand-wringing by political and business leaders over the major gap between the rich and poor which has previously been identified by forum members as the most likely threat to the global economy.

The WEF - which says it's time to make the talks "less vaguely aspirational" - has now published a paper on inclusive growth setting out 14 actions, including minimum wages, tackling corruption and investing in public services.

While Key is focused on the big picture issues and more high-powered networking, Groser will be pushing both the global and NZ trade agendas.

World Trade Organisation director-general Roberto Azevedo is hosting an informal meeting of trade ministers to lay the groundwork for the WTO ministerial conference in December.

Groser - a former chair of the WTO agricultural negotiations and former contender for the DG role - expects to deliver some blunt messages within the meeting.

He'll also be meeting US Trade Representative Mike Froman to get a read out on just where the United States Administration and Congress is sitting on the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations.

There has been wildly conflicting messaging coming from the US in recent weeks over the strength of Congressional appetite for the TPP and whether and when to give Barack Obama trade promotion authority so the USTR can finalise its offers with full confidence that any resultant deal will be passed.

On the bilateral front, New Zealand's campaign for a NZ-European Union free trade agreement will step up a notch. Groser will hold important bilaterals in Davos and then later in both Brussels (the EU's HQ) and Paris to build support.

The first step is to finalise negotiations which began in July 2012 on a formal Framework Agreement (called PARC - Partnership Agreement on Relations and Co-operation) which contains a number of economic and trade co-operation provisions.

Groser stresses that while this is a precondition for a trade agreement with the EU it is not an automatic trigger for a deal.

There will be plenty of charming and smoothing and trade-off with the EU agriculture sector before that becomes a reality.

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