Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is openly courting the United States to play a more active role in the Pacific and to re-join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) or even consider a bilateral trade deal.
She made the comments in a virtual discussion this morning with the United States-based Council on Foreign Relations.
Ardern said many countries were active in the Pacific, including China, Australia, the European Union and Japan and New Zealand would never be able to outspend them.
"What we would be seeking is, given the interests of the United States in the region, not only strategically but in terms of those longstanding relationships, to look beyond those regional relationships, beyond just strategic and defence perspective but actually look to the United States to embed itself more in our regional economic architecture.
"And I'd say that not just for the Pacific but actually the Indo-Pacific generally," she said.
"In the change in Administration, there is an opportunity there for, I think, to change up that approach and if I was seeking anything from the United States, I would seek for them to think about that opportunity."
Asked if that mean she would welcome the US re-joining CPTPP, she said it represented 13 per cent of world GDP.
"It would, if the United States joined, be the most significant agreement for the United States, I think covering in the order of 40 per cent of trade. It would be significant.
"We would encourage the United State to enter into multilateral trade agreements or even bilateral trade agreements but particularly with an eye to our region," Ardern said.
"But in doing so we are asking for a high standard, and obviously that won't be new for those who have engaged with the text of the CPTPP."
Ardern said any re-entry by the United States would require a high-standard agreement, currently reflected in the text which has been signed up to by 11 countries: New Zealand, Singapore, Chile, Brunei, Australia, Vietnam, Peru, Malaysia, Japan, Canada and Mexico.
The CPTPP (formerly the TPP) was the major trade policy of the Barack Obama Administration, in which current US President Joe Biden was Vice-President.
But Donald Trump withdrew the US from the TPP the week he was sworn into office in 2017.
Biden spoke favourably about the TPP and the possibility of renegotiating with strong protections but never made a commitment to re-join during his campaign.
The United Kingdom two weeks ago began the process of applying to join the CPTPP, which will require the consent of all 11 countries.
The initial question to Ardern when the trade issue was raised was about New Zealand's evolving role in the South Pacific, especially in light of China's Belt and Road Initiative – which funds other countries' large infrastructure projects.
Ardern said that was "an excellent question and one that has been top of our mind for the entire time that we have been in office".
She talked about the Pacific reset policy undertaken in the first term in which the Government had tried to change the relationship with Pacific neighbours to one of partnership rather than "donor–donee".
She disputed a suggestion by the moderator, Richard N Haass, that New Zealand had taken a different position to Australia on the need for an inquiry into the origins of Covid-19.
"Absolutely we support the World Health Organisation's endeavours there and also we are very clear that we need nations to participate. They need to be open and transparent. We need access if we are to be able to determine these origins.
"But all the way through we have also said this cannot be seen as a blame exercise because we need to learn and anything that might act as a barrier for nations being co-operative, we need to be mindful of but unfortunately I think probably some of that has been mis-characterised."
She said it was in everyone's interests for it to be investigated to the point where it could be proven or disproven to have escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, to help with any global response in the future.
"That's in all parties' best interests, including China's I would have thought."