National is starting to sound a little like Labour did in Opposition.

That much was clear when National launched its second major policy discussion document this year, as it undergoes a major policy review after nine years in Government.

This time it is a rethink in its approach to foreign affairs.

Now that National is in Opposition it wants a greater role for select committees in scrutinising foreign policy, and is even raising the prospect of Parliament voting for free trade deals before they are signed by the Government.


The main points of the discussion document include:

• Aggressively pursue a free trade deal with the United States.

• Doubling two-way trade with China from $30 billion to $60 billion by 2030.

• Passing a law allowing New Zealand to autonomously impose sanctions on other countries, independently of any United Nations' sanction regime.

• Requiring Parliament to pass free trade deals before they are signed.

• Building a social licence for overseas development activities.

National leader Simon Bridges drew a respectable audience of diplomats and foreign affairs specialists to Parliament today for a speech to outline priorities.

He said National would prioritise its relationship with the United States and leverage the strong security, economic and political ties to get a free trade deal negotiated.


But it would also further the strong and dynamic economic relationship with China.

He avoided any criticism of the United States actions which are undermining the World Trade Organisation, or China's aggression in the South China Seas.

It was more an overview foreign policy direction.

His implicit message was that the current Government had not been clear enough in some of its positioning.

"Our friends, partners, and allies need to know where we stand and so do New Zealanders," said Bridges.

National's positioning on international relations issues was anchored in New Zealand's values.

"We don't need to consult with ourselves for days and weeks to determine our position on Russia's aggression on Ukraine.

"We don't need to pause and think about our response to Syria's use of chemical weapons against its own people.

"We don't need to anguish over whether we recognise the illegitimate re-election of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela."

Bridges said they were reflexive positions that the Government should be able to speak out on immediately.

"International relations is not a great game. It is not a subtle art of hoodwinking competitors and saying as little as possible.

"It is not a shadow-dance. In its most simple form, it is about achieving greater security, prosperity, and benefits for New Zealanders. It is about engaging with like-minded countries to focus on mutually positive outcomes. It is about speaking out for, and acting on, the values and concerns of New Zealanders.

"We believe that as a Government we can and should demystify international relations. Our foreign policy interests are straightforward.

"It is up to Government to constantly articulate what our interests are, and what we are doing to deliver gains for New Zealanders."

He said there had been times that the current Government had not delivered a clear position to friends and partners.

"We do not have the luxury of having Washington, Beijing, Canberra or London waiting on the end of line until we've decided what we want to say."

The speech, to the Institute of International Affairs, was followed by a panel of independent thinkers to kick off the discussion: trade specialist Tracey Epps, Rear Admiral John Martin, Pacific specialist Anna Powles and former diplomat Charles Finny.

Finny was generally positive but suggested that National in Government could have had more focus on demonstrating support for human rights during its years in Government.

He also questioned one of National's proposed priorities – negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States - saying it may not be the right time, and he thought the document could recognised the leadership role of Japan in the region and in keeping the TPP trade deal alive.

The United States drove TPP negotiations to completion under President Barack Obama but President Donald Trump fulfilled an election promise when he withdrew the US from the deal in 2017.

Trump said at the time he preferred bilateral deals but few, other than New Zealand, have been knocking at the door for one because the US has already rejected the bronze-standard achievements in agriculture in the TPP.

Winston Peters said he received assurances from US Vice-President Mike Pence that he would be working on a free trade deal every day. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Winston Peters said he received assurances from US Vice-President Mike Pence that he would be working on a free trade deal every day. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Foreign Minister Winston Peters recently revealed he had raised the prospect of a free trade deal with Vice President Mike Pence in Washington in December.

And while virtually no one else considers it realistic, let alone desirable at this time, Peters was adamant today it would happen.

"Mike Pence promised me he would spend every day working on it," he told reporters at Parliament.

And he had been assured by people including ambassador Scott Brown that is was being worked on.

"It has always been the right time to pursue a free trade agreement with the biggest economy in the world."

One of National's proposals is to pass a bill empowering New Zealand to impose sanctions on countries without waiting for the United Nations Security Council to Act.

The bill was drafted and introduced under the National Government but transferred to the name of Peters and is languishing near the bottom of the order paper. Peters mistakenly said today it was a private member's bill.