Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has met with fellow free trade partners Canada's PM Justin Trudeau and Chile's President Sebastian Pinera as pro-trade countries club together to send a united message against the US more protectionist approach.

Ardern, Trudeau and Pinera met at a hotel in New York, each of them saying in their introductory statements that their goal was to try to convince trade critics in their countries of the benefits of it and ensure free trade delivered to all.

Ardern hinted that a more formal alliance was on its way - the three leaders favour what Trudeau and Ardern describe as "progressive" trade agreements, which cover more than the traditional measures such as phasing out tariffs and also labour market standards and environmental protections.

"We share the view and try to include in our own agreements environmental protections, and labour standards. We want that extra benefit for indigenous businesses, small and medium enterprises and women," Ardern said.

Advertisement

"So together we share those values, we are promoting that globally together . I think we have plans to do something more formal to lock in this agenda we share."

The leaders were in New York for the UN General Assembly. The day before US President Donald Trump had delivered his statement to the Assembly, warning that his stance on trade was not about to change.

Chile's President Sebastian Pinera, Canada PM Justin Trudeau and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meet in New York. Photo / Claire Trevett
Chile's President Sebastian Pinera, Canada PM Justin Trudeau and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meet in New York. Photo / Claire Trevett

That has seen tariffs piled on - especially against China - and the US withdraw from regional trade agreements such as the TPP in favour of getting one on one deals with countries.

Trudeau said 'progressives' did not often talk about trade being important but it was a significant force for growth and important to ensure it reached out to everybody. "Everyone - the environment, indigenous people, marginalised people, these are the kind of things we have to talk more about."

Pinera said some people believed they would be left out and the leaders needed to ensure trade benefited all.

The Labour Government is now consulting on the future of trade through the 'Trade for All' programme. Ardern said the controversy around the CPTPP showed free trade had lost its social license.

"We came away from that absolutely committed to rebuilding the trade agenda and making sure it delivered prosperity for a greater number of NZers and I know that's something we share in common."

After some changes, Ardern's government signed off on the final Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership in March. The legal changes required for it to take effect are underway and it has support from NZ First and the National Party, although the Green Party still opposes it.

Advertisement

The words Comprehensive and Progressive were tagged on at the last minute by Trudeau to try to placate local critics.

It was a day of trade for Ardern, who was also a panellist at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum where she was forced to defend her domestic policies as a left-wing politician such as signing the CPTPP and cutting immigration.

Labour had originally opposed the TPP when it was in Opposition and host CNN Fareed Zakaria asked Ardern if signing trade agreements and being tough on immigration was "new winning formula for the left wing politicians?"

Zakaria pushed Ardern to answer on the issue of immigration, an issue Ardern tries to side step by talking about her plans to lift the refugees policy rather than wider immigration policy such as cutting back on international student visas and the low skilled.

Ardern replied that those cuts to immigration was being "tough on the exploitation of migrants."

"We want to ensure when someone chooses to call New Zealand home that they have a decent job, a decent home. We are making sure we don't see exploitation in our student market and when someone goes out to seek someone for work that they are going to pay them decent wages and have a decent job."

She said she was "proudly pro-trade" and repeated her talking points from earlier in the day saying it was important to rebuild the "social licence" for trade.

"For us, we are now coming through with CPTPP. We re-negotiated enough to certainly demonstrate there were more benefits than there were losses for us as a nation, we are now demonstrating hopefully with the EU FTA and other agreements the benefits of trade to our smaller enterprises, to our indigenous peoples, to women and that we can uphold labour and environmental standards.

"That is how we reinforce the benefits of multilateralism rather than bilateralism."