New Zealand is spreading its diplomatic presence beyond Europe, Asia and the Americas to a tiny island nation that one MP says is best known for its cricket and cannabis.

An embassy is scheduled to open in Barbados - New Zealand's first Caribbean post.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully emphasised that the new embassy in the capital, Bridgetown, would be "not too grand" and New Zealand would be sharing a site with the British ambassador.

The CIA Factbook says the country of 290,000 people is the wealthiest and most developed in the eastern Caribbean, with an economy built on tourism and sugar exports, but it also has some problems with forced labour, sex trafficking and child prostitution.


Labour foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer said after large cuts to Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade staffing last year, it seemed unusual to be opening an embassy on a tiny island state known for "cricket and marijuana".

"Other than cricket I can't think of many other ties other than pretty tenuous links with a small island," Mr Shearer said.

He acknowledged Barbados would have strategic value for winning votes from Caribbean nations for New Zealand's United Nations Security Council bid, which he said was an important goal.

Mr McCully stressed it was not a trade-focused posting but a tactical one.

"One of the challenges is that bigger countries, particularly at the United Nations, are looking to occupy more of the space, particularly in time on the Security Council, and that can only be at the expense of smaller countries. Unless smaller countries that have the same sort of strategic interests work together we're not going to improve our overall influence and that should be a long-term project for us."

He said placing an ambassador in Bridgetown made perfect sense because Caribbean nations faced similar pressures to Pacific Island countries, in particular oceans and fisheries management, climate change, and renewable energy.

New Zealand played a leadership role in the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum, and could now apply its international policymaking to the island states 10,000km away.

"New Zealand's international personality is strongly influenced by its Pasifika roots.

"And I think that alliance with the Caribbean nations is very important and very natural," the Foreign Minister said.

Mr McCully said the next "obvious" continent for expansion was Africa, where New Zealand now has posts in Cairo, Pretoria, and, as of this year, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia - home of the African Union.

"There are more diplomats in Addis Ababa than there are in Brussels," Mr McCully said, noting that the post provided access to 54 countries.

New Zealand was also considering posts in Nigeria, where Fonterra was aiming to capitalise on a market of 200 million people, and in Bogota, Colombia.

As part of a Ministry of Foreign Affairs shakeup last year, the embassy in Sweden was closed.

Other posts in Madrid and the Hague could also be closed.