Prime Minister John Key shows every sign he has the ability to fill Helen Clark's place on the world stage.
The international global crisis has provided Key with a strong platform to quickly establish his presence in Lima as a new Asia-Pacific leader.
Not only does the former investment banker talk the language of the financial world, but he clearly understands the conditions which spawned the crisis at both a technical and human level.
And he comes to notice when other new leaders from the United States, Japan and Korea are fast establishing their own international power cohorts.
His opening remarks to the Apec CEOs' Summit this morning were a case in point.
Key brought home the fact small nations like New Zealand are affected by the global crisis (not just the big elephants like the US and Britain with their attendant banking crises).
He drew on his own financial mana to talk fluently about the crisis with the chief executives whose ranks he left six years ago when he embarked upon a political career.
During the election campaign, Key's financial sector background made him a target for Labour-inspired investigations trying to find examples of malpractice in his earlier career, thus linking him with the origins of the global financial turmoil.
In Lima, that background is simply seen as a plus - one of the reasons he has been chosen to join major league players like China's President Hu Jintao and Singapore's Prime Minister BG Lee at their table tomorrow when they talk turkey with Apec business representatives on mechanisms to address the global crisis.
It's not uncommon in sophisticated nations like the US and Singapore (China's leaders are drawn from technocratic backgrounds) for business leaders to devote part of their careers to public service. Key may not speak Mandarin like Australia's Kevin Rudd, but his international financial track record (think money-making) will see him in good stead when he talks with Hu about the tainted milk scandal at Fonterra's Sanlu joint-venture.
Even before Key's flight touched down in Lima yesterday, his newbie Cabinet ministers: Tim Groser (Trade) and Murray McCully (Foreign Affairs) had displayed the diplomatic skills which will go a long way to underpinning New Zealand's subsequent forays on the international stage. Groser - a veteran trade negotiator before entering politics - was instrumental in the successful manoeuvre to expand the "P4" free trade agreement - which covers New Zealand, Brunei, Chile and Singapore - so that Australia and Peru could joint the United States at the negotiating table.
There had been worries that the Barack Obama-led US might revert to protectionism. But when I asked US Trade Representative Susan Schwab if the Obama administration would proceed with P4, she replied the US had a proud and successful history of having a truly bipartisan trade policy dating back to the Roosevelt Administration and 1934, and "It is our hope and expectation that they will continue with that, in that spirit".
Schwab's reference to the mechanisms Roosevelt put in place to bring the Great Depression of the 1930s to a halt plays into the underlying theme of the 2008 Apec. No one is focused on climate change when the very issue of the survival of the world's financial system predominates. Erecting more trade barriers will just push the world nearer a tipping point.
Other Trade Ministers I spoke with here praised Groser's push to get them all back to Geneva next month to try and unlock the stalled world trade talks. In McCully's case, he laid the groundwork during his own meeting with Australia's Stephen Smith to get a renewed focus on Fiji's problems.
Observing the two ministers as they chalked up a big list of bilateral meetings was like watching a game of high-speed dating but hopefully with more impressive outcomes.
Clark established a valuable role for New Zealand as an "honest broker" in global forums during her nine years as Prime Minister. By virtue of her studious nature (Clark is a copious note-taker) and strong abilities as an interlocutor, she also earned a reputation as a voice to be listened to as she proposed policy options to other leaders.
Key's abilities are on a different plane as the organisers of the CEO summit astutely discerned. My soundings confirm they took a clear punt that Key - rather than Clark - would be in the PM's role at Apec.
Just four days ahead of the November 8 election, the organisers changed-out the invitation to the " New Zealand Prime Minister" to address a session on 'Growth Equity and Sustainable Development Ideas for Apec's future agenda'.
This invitation was clearly designed to allow Clark to flourish. But the organisers instead changed the invitation for the Prime Minister to make the remarks at the opening session on the global financial crisis this morning.
Key has not disappointed them.
Fran O'Sullivan received assistance from the Pacific Economic Co-operation Council to attend Apec.