The birth of Jacinda's Ardern's daughter on the day New Zealand and the European Union launched free trade talks was a happy coincidence.

It was also the day that the United States ended its shameful treatment of children arriving at the border with non-documented parents, after global outcry.

It was the week the US gave up its seat on the UN Human Rights Council – a seat initially given to it by New Zealand – citing bias against Israel.

And it was the week in which the New Zealand Government confirmed its ban on foreigners buying existing houses in New Zealand.


But any time capsule of the week opened by the first daughter in years to come would not show a clear picture of New Zealand's place in the world.

That is partly because of the fast changing world under the influence of United States President Donald Trump.

But it is also because the Government has not yet established a clear voice in responding to the uncertainty and turmoil caused by Trump.

That is a product of a conservative and cautious foreign minister in Winston Peters operating in a liberal Government.

In his first week in charge of the country, Winston Peters made a reasonable fist of it in all aspects except his own portfolio, Foreign Affairs, where he took the advice of officials to tip-toe around the United States.

Peters made an interesting statement to reporters on hearing that the Prime Minister had gone into labour.

Explaining why he didn't regard it as an historic day, he said when you've been around as long as he has, nothing is unusual.

Perhaps that accounted for his slow and anaemic response to the sight of kids being torn away from parents at the US southern border.


We wouldn't do it, he said, reminiscent of Bill English's inadequate response last year when Trump started banning arrivals from Muslim countries.

What also lies behind New Zealand's failure to criticise is a deferential attitude to the United States that should be shaken off by Peters and his ministry.

One of the "sins" of the Human Rights Council, apparently, was to launch an investigation into the recent protests in Gaza in which Israeli troops shot and killed at least 130 Palestinians.

New Zealand does not have to take its lead from Australia which is so close to the US that the departure of the US from Human Rights Council sparked a debate as whether it too should leave part-way through its three-year term.

This week was a time to demonstrate New Zealand has an independent foreign policy.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark found the right words to express her concern at kids being ripped from parents and equally to express concern at the US quitting the Human Rights Council because of the important role it had played on it.

Clark's gradual re-entry into New Zealand politics is carving out a role for her almost as an Emeritus Foreign Minister.

One of the "sins" of the Human Rights Council, apparently, was to launch an investigation into the recent protests in Gaza in which Israeli troops shot and killed at least 130 Palestinians.

It also criticised Trump's treatment of kids at the border, which appeared to the final straw. The last Republican Administration, of George W Bush, boycotted the council.

New Zealand was due to be elected to the council in 2009 but stood aside for the US Obama Administration in recognition of its re-engagement in multilateral forums.

Peters is due to have his first encounter with the new US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo soon in telephone talks and is due to meet him at a regional forum soon after he steps back from Acting Prime Minister.

Illustration / Guy Body
Illustration / Guy Body

It will be important for Peters to start off on a positive footing which may also have been behind his reluctance to turn up the volume against the US.

In the past, trade would have been a significant aspect of any such conversation, as would the global effort to address climate change, developments in the Asia Pacific, Iraq, Iran and the Middle East.

Now it is likely to be an update on peace with North Korea and the trade war with its allies in the European Union.

Trump's withdrawal from the TPP reinforces the importance of the trade talks launched this week with the European Union with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom.

Peters' repeated claims that the launch of the EU talks has been all down to this Government is ridiculous – especially given that taxpayers funded a cross-party visit by him in opposition to Brussels and Paris with former Trade Minister Todd McClay to progress a deal.

McClay's approach to trade deals is virtually the same as the current Government's - which is essentially paying as much attention to public relations and engagement as to the negotiations.

It is a model championed by Malmstrom.

The current Government in Opposition abandoned its bipartisan approach to trade because they were afraid of losing their activist base to the more extreme Greens.

They exaggerated the flaws in the TPP to justify their abandonment and were then forced to exaggerate the changes to the TPP to justify their role as its champions a few months later in Government.

Malmstrom is only too familiar with opposition to free trade in Europe, from economic nationalists and xenophobes.

Similar opponents of free trade in New Zealand are generally supportive of the current Government which straddles the left and the right, so it is not likely to become a political weapon again for a long time.

Trade Minister David Parker optimistically hopes the EU deal will be done in two years.

But there are 32 steps to complete an EU trade deal before it enters into force - concluding a final text between negotiators is only step 10.

A safer bet is that Ardern's little one will have long started school before any deal is done and dusted.

Hopefully there will be less uncertainty in the world and New Zealand won't be afraid to use its voice.