Jacinda Ardern will have her first formal meeting with United States President Donald Trump this morning in a much-anticipated encounter between two leaders who have been cast as political opposites.
And it is understood the meeting in New York will come ahead of preliminary trade talks between New Zealand and the US, which are set to begin in Washington next month.
A free trade deal could save New Zealand exporters tens of millions of dollars a year in lower tariffs, particularly in the primary sector and the knowledge economy - though negotiations are expected to take years and the outcome is uncertain.
The Prime Minister landed in New York yesterday and is meeting Trump this morning after delivering the keynote address at the United Nations Climate Summit and meeting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Trump arrived in New York a few hours later with a strong, visible police escort, roads blocked by barriers and police vehicles, and a constant helicopter presence.
Ardern has met Trump informally in previous years on the sidelines of Apec and at a reception in New York, but this will be their first formal sit-down and trade is firmly on the agenda.
It is of particular interest given that she is seen by some as the anti-Trump - as proclaimed in a headline in Vogue Magazine last year.
Ardern, for her part, has been diplomatic towards the US President since becoming Prime Minister. She has refrained from directly criticising him, though she spoke up in July when he attacked four non-white Congresswomen.
"Usually I don't get into other people's politics, but it will be clear to most people that I completely and utterly disagree with him." she said at the time.
Ardern has called today's meeting a bilateral, but a White House daily schedule is calling it a "pull-aside".
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The meeting is highly secretive, with a blanket ban on media access - the only one of Trump's meetings today that is closed to media.
Ardern told reporters in New York last night that she did not know why the ban had been put in place.
"No, I do not [know why] but it's not us. We're always open. We love having you guys around."
The Herald understands that senior trade officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) have already been invited to Washington for preliminary talks in mid-October, building on previous work including visits to the US by Foreign Minister Winston Peters.
"This will be a chance to continue a conversation that actually the Deputy Prime Minister started some time ago," Ardern said.
Trump has pulled the US towards a more protectionist "America-first" position, but free trade advocates say the White House - and whoever may be President - may be more open to free trade agreements by the time negotiations have finished.
In their 20-minute meeting, they could also discuss security issues, China's influence in the Pacific, climate change and the Christchurch Call, which the US supports in principle but has not signed.
Ardern said New Zealand's concerns with free trade negotiations will be to protect drug agency Pharmac, the Treaty of Waitangi, and intellectual property.
Both countries will be reluctant to sign a trade agreement that is not mutually beneficial, and the question remains over how New Zealand, a small fish in the global trade game, can entice the US into a trade deal.
"A bilateral deal for the US is a very big market for us, but we're not a very big market for them," ExportNZ executive director Catherine Beard said.
"So our negotiating position is not as strong as if in a multilateral agreement."
She said New Zealand's good standing in the Pacific could sweeten the deal.
"President Trump has been saying they want to have a good relationship in the Asia Pacific. They value our co-operation on defence and Five Eyes [the intelligence-sharing network between the US, New Zealand, Canada, Australia and Britain].
"Sometimes there are strategic reasons to do free trade deals that go above and beyond the actual trade."
She added there was not a trade imbalance between the two countries.
"It's not like we're taking their manufacturing jobs or anything like that."
A free trade deal with the US would see similar benefits for New Zealand to what the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) has opened with Japan – a huge market of high-income consumers.
Two-way trade with the US is already worth $18 billion a year.
Despite tariffs, the US is New Zealand's largest export market not only for beef and edible offal (worth over $1 billion in 2016), but also for intellectual property ($243m), telecommunications, computer and information services ($337m), personal, cultural and recreational services ($221m), and wine ($559.5m).
Jordan Small, executive director of the NZUS Council, said a free trade deal would grow certain sectors significantly.
"The creative industries, intellectual property, transport services - these are all [the] fastest growing and most innovative parts of the New Zealand economy."
Mfat has estimated the value of free trade with the US while working on the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) before it became the CPTPP, which Trump withdrew the US from.
An Mfat paper showed that almost all New Zealand exports to the US – 99.6 per cent – would benefit from eliminating tariffs, amounting to tariff savings of $52m a year .
Beard said it was good to start preliminary talks now, and by the time it was time to sign a deal, the White House may be less protectionist.
"FTA deals tend to take five to seven years. They do take time and Presidents change and philosophies change.
"Starting a process under one Administration doesn't mean you end the process under that Administration. The US could be more outward looking at some future date."
The bilateral meeting today follows Winston Peters' visits to Washington in December last year and in July this year.
Peters is thought to have raised trade during talks with Vice-President Mike Pence in July.
He also gave a speech during that trip, saying the US was missing out on trade opportunities in the Asia Pacific.
Meeting with Boris Johnson
This morning she met Boris Johnson for the first time in person, though they have spoken on the phone before.
They exchanged pleasantries and joked at how the white UK room at the UN was "palatial" compared to the tiny booths usually reserved at the UN for bilateral meetings.
Johnson thanked Ardern for coming.
"It's a pleasure. I wouldn't have found your offices without being escorted," Ardern said to Johnson.
When she said the room was "better than those booths you usually get," he replied: "This is quite palatial, by comparison?"
Afterwards a spokesman for Ardern said they talked about a post-Brexit Free Trade Agreement.
"The Prime Minister raised the issue of Tariff Rate Quotas on New Zealand exports to the UK and reiterated New Zealand's position that our exporters should be no worse off post-Brexit. PM Johnson agreed to have a look at this issue."
Other topics traversed included engagement in the Pacific, security and intelligence issues, and the Rugby World Cup.
Johnson also expressed his condolences and concern regarding the March 15 terrorist attack in Christchurch and his support for the Christchurch Call to Action.
"The Prime Minister registered New Zealand's desire to ensure skilled migrants maintained access to the UK. This was received positively by PM Johnson," the spokesman said.
"They also discussed developments in the Gulf, including the concerning attack on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities."
UN Climate Change Summit
After her bilateral with Johnson, Ardern gave one of the opening addresses at the UN Climate Summit, considered one of the key climate change events since the Paris Agreement, which has a target to keep temperature rises within 2 Degrees Celsius this century.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has told leaders to come to New York with concrete plans, not "beautiful speeches", on how to meet the Paris target, and has made specific requests around carbon neutrality plans for 2050, taxing carbon, axing coal power beyond 2020 and tackling fossil fuel subsidies.
Ardern's speech followed an emotional plea from Swedish teenager and environmental activist Greta Thunberg for stronger action by heads of state.
Ardern then spoke about her visit to Tokelau, population 1500, where she saw the new coastal walls being toppled over from the assault by the sea.
"It's a message of urgency ... If we are to overcome the extraordinary threat that climate change poses we all must start with an honest appraisal of our current situation."
She outlined the Government's plan including the Zero Carbon Bill, the Emissions Trading Scheme, and banning new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration.
"Over the next five years we will collaborate to build systems that every farmer will be able to use to measure, manage and reduce their own farm's emissions.
"We are determined to show that we can be the most sustainable food producers in the world. We are determined that New Zealand can and will play our part in the global effort."
After the bilateral meeting with Trump, Ardern will meet tech company executives and French government representatives and later announce progress on the Christchurch Call, including a new crisis-response framework.
Tomorrow she will head into a series of bilateral meetings, and deliver New Zealand's national statement to the UN General Assembly.
Climate change will take centre stage again on Thursday (NZT), when Ardern will announce a trade initiative to remove tariffs on climate change-related technology and cut fossil-fuel subsidies.
Ardern will address the Goalkeepers "Global Goals Awards" and have a Q&A session with hosts Bill and Melinda Gates, and then take part in a plenary panel at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum.
She will also take part in a panel called Champions for Generation Equality: Women Leaders in the World.
Trade with the US:
• Two-way trade worth $18 billion a year
• Despite tariffs, US is NZ's largest export market for beef, intellectual property, telecommunications, computer and information services, and wine.
• Mfat estimates eliminating all tariffs would save NZ exporters $52 million a year
• Trade negotiations could take years, when a new US Administration could be more open to free trade with NZ