Dubai! The cradle of ancient civilisation.

Our trade mission has to succeed at all costs. It's going to be a tense few days but I've learned that it pays to inject a bit of humour into proceedings.

A man wearing a towel wrapped around his head met me at the airport. I said, "Gidday, sahib!"

That put him at his ease and then I put him in a headlock. I told him I was just horsing around, and everyone laughed.


We were taken to a supermarket and shown 78 different products representing 20 Kiwi brands on the shelves. I said, "Nah, what you want is some good New Zealand meat! Come back to mine and I'll show you what can be done with it."

A delegation turned up at the hotel. I'd made arrangements, and we stood out on the balcony while I put chops, steak and sausages on the barbecue.

They watched, fascinated, and didn't quite know what to do when I handed them the sausages in white bread with tomato sauce.

"You can always wipe your hands on those long white aprons you've got on," I said, and everyone laughed.


Saudi Arabia! My first impression is that it's a pretty chilled-out place. No dramas.

I spoke with a guy who I gather is some sort of nomad chief, and said to him, "Your country's record of human rights abuses is obviously pretty exaggerated. How can anyone really tell if someone's been beheaded?"

He said, "It is media - how you say - beat-up."

I said, "You should see what they say about me!"


He said, "I have. Tell me, what is ponytail? Is it horse?"

I said, "More like a nightmare! Geddit? A mare is a kind of horse."

Everyone laughed, and the leathery Arab said, "May I be telling you all the things I own with my enormous wealth?"

I said, "My turn after you!"

He was still going after an hour. When he said he owned the Four Seasons, I said, "Gosh, the Four Seasons is an amazing chain, fantastic hotels. At our Maui house the Four Seasons is in front of us, it's a great place for dinner."

He said, "It is spoiling your view? I can have it moved. Expense no problem."


I said, "Listen, in that case, how about you buy some of our chops?"

The wily villain just smiled.


I caught up with Trade Minister Tim Groser and asked him how he thought the mission was going.

He said, "We're gaining valuable face time."

"Are we any closer to a free trade pact?"

He said, "It's a much better use of our time than sitting in Wellington for a few days where we'd have no chance of getting it over the line."


"What happens next?"

He said, "Where this now goes is that the Gulf Council members sit down as a group, and they'll discuss whether they want to progress things, and you've got to believe me being here has put us in a much better position for them to have that discussion, and for them ultimately to complete the deal."

"Can you pass me one of those biscuits?"

He said, "The fact that you've asked puts you in a better position than if you'd just phoned up from Wellington, so what I'm going to do now is take away the plate of biscuits to my room and think about it, and there's every chance that ultimately a crumb might cross the line."


Kuwait! It's a lot like Dubai. And Saudi Arabia. I can't wait to leave.


We were flying back home when I heard gales of laughter down the back of the plane. It sounded exactly like the laughs I got this week.


I went to investigate, and found it was just Tim Groser.

I said, "Mate! Got any of those biscuits?"

He said, "What biscuits?"