New Zealand's top trade official, Vangelis Vitalis, is what you'd call a live wire.
That is just as well because New Zealand's trade agenda in these tumultuous times - Britain's Brexit crisis, superpower trade wars, and the vandalism of the World Trade Organisation - demands a high-energy approach.
"Irrepressible" is how Trade Minister David Parker describes Vitalis, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy secretary of trade and economics.
"He'll hate me for naming [him] …but everywhere you are with him in the world people are greeting him like a long lost friend because there is something irrepressible as well as principled about him that other people like."
Vitalis is part of the younger breed of diplomat who is not only comfortable with social media, he thrives on it.
His Twitter feed is a mix of retweets and missives on the latest trade issue, banter about the latest misfortune of Phoenix soccer team, photos of dawn fishing from the Wellington coast, and anything that celebrates his Greek heritage.
So, @WgtnPhoenixFC won last night and early this morning dinner hooked itself up in the harbour - my ‘secret spot’ delivered again. And summer is nearly here. My cup runneth over... pic.twitter.com/8fyk2aOWu4— Vangelis Vitalis (@VangelisVNZ) October 21, 2018
Vitalis arrived in Palmerston North at the age of 12 from Fiji, where his father had lectured at the University of the South Pacific for four years.
He went to Palmerston North Boys High, studied politics and economics at Auckland University then joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
He speaks Greek, German and Russian, had postings to Australia and Moscow and has been ambassador to the European Union and Nato, and ambassador to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva.
He led New Zealand's negotiations in the currently suspended FTA with Russia, and then led the TPP mark II, without the United States, otherwise known as the CPTPP.
Vitalis' first assignment abroad with his new masters after the 2017 election, with Parker, Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, was to Apec in Da Nang, Vietnam.
It turned into a trip of high drama for the CPTPP when the Canadians bottled at the 11th hour, and didn't show up for the Japan-led TPP summit to seal the TPP II deal. It was finally settled in Chile a few months later.
TPP Mark I took longer to negotiate and New Zealand's current ambassador to the World Trade Organisation, David Walker, led the New Zealand negotiations while resistance to free trade per se was fuelled at home and abroad as an attack on sovereignty.
He had also led the successful FTA with China.
Walker, a former boss of Vitalis, is on his third stint at the WTO in Geneva and is held in very high regard by other trade specialists.
He heads the WTO's disputes settlement body, which has overall authority to manage trade dispute.
And he is chief facilitator in efforts to resolve the potential gridlock in the WTO's ability to settle trade disputes after December 10, because of the Trump Administration's refusal to appoint new judges.
Those efforts were given a sliver of hope last week after the G7 issued a statement calling for changes at the WTO – an advance on last year when there was no agreed statement.
But Walker has his work cut out for him to wrangle a result that would avert the United States' efforts to destroy international trade architecture.
Former Trade Minister Tim Groser once called New Zealand's negotiators the All Blacks of trade negotiators, although he might say that, mightn't he, as a former trade negotiator himself.
Parker described New Zealand's negotiators as "top notch - born of necessity".
"When the UK divorced us and went into the European Community as it was back then, it left us in a very, very vulnerable position," said Parker.
"We had to obtain secure trading routes with other countries. We had no power because we are such a small country, population and economy-wise relative to others even though per capita we are pretty wealthy. And we developed capability that is far greater than is the norm for a country our size," says Parker.
"Are we the All Blacks of trade negotiators? I reckon some of our trade negotiators are."
Vitalis wouldn't be interviewed, although he was happy to confirm a few facts over coffee at Astoria on Lambton Quay. He is one of the more approachable senior government officials.
He often talks frequently to groups interested in trade or international relations and in various outreach meetings that are now held as part of the Trade For All policy to give trade a better name.
Vitalis and Parker are among the keynote speakers at a trade and economic policy school at Auckland University this Friday and Saturday, at which the most pressing of trade problems will be discussed.
The effects of the US-China trade war will be front and centre, with the United States escalating it on Sunday with 15 per cent tariffs on a variety of Chinese imports and China retaliating with new duties on US crude oil.
Parker says New Zealand is affected by the trade war by the loss of economic efficiency in the world.
"The principle that lies behind trade is do what you do well and do more of it.
"If you start having trade tensions between China and the USA, you disrupt the efficiency of those transactions, world growth declines.
"Perhaps more importantly you can have a crisis of confidence in business and businesses stop investing or doing new stuff or improving productivity and the whole system goes on a downward spiral rather than an upward one."
China this week announced it had lodged another complaint against China at the WTO over tariffs, its third formal complaint since the Trump Administration started imposing tariffs in response for what it says is theft of intellectual property.
Even if China and the US kissed and made up, it could have ramifications for New Zealand.
For example a deal that required China to buy more beef from the United States would almost certainly mean the US buying less from New Zealand.
Or if the United States is selling fewer apples to China, there will be more local apples in the US market and that will lower the price of New Zealand apples exported to the US.
The same principle applies to a potential crash-out by Britain of the European Union.
A chaotic exit with no agreement could mean the British domestic market flooded with goods it would otherwise sell to Europe.
New Zealand has a continuity agreement for trade with the UK which will apply with or without a chaotic Brexit – it essentially guarantees that the regulations enabling exports, such as phytosanitary certificates, will continue to be recognised.
Vitalis is heading to Britain after the trade policy school for regular talks with his British counterpart and then on to Geneva for a meeting of the Ottawa Group - a group of 13 countries leading efforts to reform and rescue the WTO from being killed off by the United States.
David Parker, like much of the world, is watching the Brexit drama unfold under Prime Minister Boris Johnson and was one of the earliest trade ministers to meet his new counterpart, Liz Truss.
And however Britain leaves the European Union, he says New Zealand is in the market for a fast free trade agreement.
"If there were the political will on both sides then we could do it faster than any other two countries because our institutions are so similar, we are trusted partners, we go way back and our guys are pretty good at it."
NEW ZEALAND'S TRADE AGENDA:
• FTA with European Union;
• Joining Pacific Alliance, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru;
• Asean-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) deal including India;
• Launching new digital trade agreement with Singapore and Chile, which others can join;
• Upgrade to the 2008 FTA with China;
• Upgrade to the 2010 FTA with Asean and Australia, AANZFTA;
• Reform and rescue of the WTO through the 12-country Ottawa Group;
• Leadership in seeking global agreement on fisheries subsidies;
• Leadership in promoting fossil fuel subsidy reform;
• Concluded and ratified the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
• Continuity agreement with Britain for post-Brexit arrangements.
• Upgraded Singapore FTA as part of NZ-Singapore Enhanced Partnership;
• Ratified Pacer Plus agreement with Pacific.