Foreign Minister Winston Peters has met United States' Vice President Mike Pence at the White House, hours after making a strong pitch for a free trade deal with the US in a speech in Washington.

He essentially made the case that the United States was being left behind in the Asia Pacific region.

Peters argued that it was in the United States' interests to become more active in securing free trade deals in the area, pointing out that its share of exports to Asia had declined significantly over almost 30 years.

In that time it had negotiated only three FTAs in the region, with Australia, Singapore and South Korea.


He said New Zealand stood ready to take up President Donald Trump's offer last year to negotiate bilateral trade agreements with any country in the region that wanted to be a partner and would abide by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade.

Peters' meeting with Pence was not signalled before he left New Zealand on Monday.

But he and Pence have established a relationship as deputy leaders, first at the Apec summit in Papua New Guinea in November, and then on a visit to Washington last December where Peters made his first pitch privately with Pence for a FTA.

Peters is thought to have raised the issue again with Pence in his meeting today, which included New Zealand's ambassador, Rosemary Banks, Mfat deputy secretary Ben King, Peters' chief of staff Jon Johansson, and US ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown.

Brown had a separate meeting yesterday with Trump's deputy chief of staff for policy co-ordination, Kiwi Chris Liddell, in the grounds of the White House.

Peters is in Washington to attend the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Peters delivered a speech early today to the Centre of Strategic and International Studies in Washington, which focused on a free trade deal with the US.

While Peters' generally eschews the term Indo-Pacific for Asia Pacific, he adopted the US' preferred term while in Washington saying "the United States' limited engagement in trade agreements in the Indo-Pacific is of real concern to New Zealand."


He outlined the multilateral trade agreements of the 10 Asean nations and the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement – formerly the TPP from which Trump withdrew.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters meets with US Vice-President Mike Pence, watched by NZ ambassador to the US Rosemary Banks, left, and US ambassador to NZ Scott Brown, right. Photo / NZ Govt
Foreign Minister Winston Peters meets with US Vice-President Mike Pence, watched by NZ ambassador to the US Rosemary Banks, left, and US ambassador to NZ Scott Brown, right. Photo / NZ Govt

"The upshot is that for those countries which have engaged in this manner, they are able to move goods, services and investment across each other's borders with lower costs and much more business certainty.

"And the converse is also true – for those countries not participating in these negotiations, they are by definition becoming less competitive relative to those countries who are progressively removing barriers to trade and economic activity."

He said that while most countries in Asia had been actively negotiating trade agreements, with the "staggering" economic growth of China one obvious symbol of the greater trade engagement seen across Asia, the US had negotiated only three FTAS in the region in the past 20 years which together represented just 12 per cent of Asia's GDP.

While US exports worldwide had grown by 5.3 per cent on average since 1990, the share of US exports to New Zealand had fallen from nearly 18 per cent to 10 per cent.

"The trend is even more marked for the United States' share of imports across Asia," Peters said.

In 1990, 17.4 per cent of all goods imported to Asia came from the US. By 2018, that 17.4 per cent share had fallen to just 7.4 per cent.

"That means that the US has lost half of its market share over a 28-year period, and gives you a sense of the significant scale of lost opportunities for US exporters and workers."