Former Trade Minister Tim Groser doesn't need to say he feels liberated: he exudes it.

His feet are resting on the coffee table in Parliament's transition room as he contemplates his next move as a free man - a return to the diplomatic corps in the plum role as Ambassador to the United States.

It will not just be a life relatively free from the demands of near-constant travel, it will be a life, full-stop.

"My office worked out two or three years ago that I was overseas more than 200 days a year and boy, I'm not going to miss that," he said.


"Constant travel - you have no life at all."

He is looking forward to resuming a personal life, going to the movies, playing music, getting fit, things he found impossible to do while on the move.

So what music will he be listening to?

"I like to play music rather than listen to it," he says.

"In my youth I played bass guitar in rock bands. Now I play acoustic and jazz guitar, electric jazz."

Electric jazz in the exclusive Observatory Circle where the embassy and the ambassador's residence are both located.

But Groser's new neighbours, the Clintons one side and the US Vice-President across the road, needn't have the noise police on speed dial.

"I've made a decision to learn to play jazz piano which has been a wish of mine forever," says Groser.


He was given a baby grand piano by his grandmother, a concert pianist.

"And it has sat there, waiting for me to open her up and start to play it. So I have a strong emotional connection with music."

He will buy a modern electric piano in the United States and keep his baby grand in storage in New Zealand.

A suggestion that it might be hard for someone in his 60s to learn new things is dismissed.

"I don't believe that at all," Groser says with his characteristic self-belief that is sometimes mistaken for arrogance.

"I'm learning Spanish and I'm learning Spanish faster than I have learned another language," he says.

He already speaks Indonesian and French, which has helped with the Spanish.

"I don't believe in this theory that old people can't learn things. It's a question of your attitude and discipline."

I'm learning Spanish faster than I have learned another language.

Groser is speaking from the corner office on Parliament's second floor where deposed and retiring Prime Ministers and sacked and "in- between" ministers go before moving on.

Its last inhabitant was Judith Collins, before she was reinstated to the cabinet.

Groser is an in-between. He will head to Washington in late January, with his ministerial career having ended on several highs: concluding a free-trade agreement with Korea, helping to conclude the TPP free-trade deal in October, and he was a vital part of the Paris climate-change agreement in December, having promoted the conditions under which the United States and other major emitters would join - essentially with meaningful but non-binding targets.

And because of his close working relationship with the US Climate Change envoy Todd Stern and US Trade Representative Mike Froman, he says he has been invited by both of them to take part in the political sell of the TPP and the Paris agreement in Washington.

"I will have to avoid becoming involved in their internal politics but putting the substance of the case as the New Zealand Government's Ambassador in Washington, I've got a probably unique position in both these areas.

"There is no doubt that this will be the major focus of the first period of my time in Washington."

One of the areas he is looking forward to is working on enhancements to the scientific and innovative sectors.

One aspect of the job he is not looking forward to is the cocktail party circuit, which most diplomats will argue is an essential vehicle for informal exchange.

"I have a particular hatred of cocktail parties. I consider them vacuous and meaningless," he says.

"If I never attend another cocktail party in my life I would be a very happy man. Don't get me wrong; I really like working lunches and working dinners but cocktail parties? I cannot stand them."

Q&A: Todd McClay, new Trade Minister

Todd McLay. Photo / Supplied
Todd McLay. Photo / Supplied

How are you feeling about your new job as Trade Minister?

Genuinely excited. I'm going to spend some time through the summer working out a few priorities for the next two years.

Is it your dream job?

It was one of the portfolios I was interested in when I came to Parliament. I had an involvement in trade and trade negotiations overseas.

Where did you work in Europe?

In the European Parliament for some time as chief of staff to Lord Henry Plumb who was at one time president of the European Parliament but probably more importantly had been president of the National Farmers Union when Britain joined the European Community. So I spent many years learning about agriculture, and agriculture politics and agriculture trade politics from him when he was part of the European Union. I also had a lobbying company in Brussels. We lobbied on behalf of governments and companies and I did a lot of work for New Zealand companies including the New Zealand Dairy Board at the time, which had a $1 billion fine imposed against it for importation of butter to Europe outside of quota.

Will your time in Brussels give you an advantage negotiating a free-trade agreement with Europe?

I think it will certainly be a help and perhaps an advantage. But we are lucky. We've got some of the world's best trade negotiators in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and I'll be working closely with them and relying on them.

What have you learned from ex-Trade Minister Tim Groser?

Probably at the moment and over the next handful of months, the importance of relationships. Tim has got strong relationships with key players from important countries.

What are you doing over the summer?

I'll be with my family, taking a bit of time away.