Americans see New Zealand as a haven with none of the United States' immigration or economic pressures, Prime Minister Bill English said after speaking to US President Donald Trump.

Among the topics of discussion in the leaders' 15-minute telephone call yesterday was New Zealand's economic performance.

English told reporters at Parliament this morning that the US President did not comment on the specifics of New Zealand's economy but he was "aware that we are doing pretty well".

"There's something of an idealised version of New Zealand in the US," English said. "But it's backed up by substance on economic growth, which is steady, [and] political stability."


"They tend to see us a haven from all the pressures that they're dealing with."

Prime Minister Bill English pictured talking on phone to US President Donald Trump yesterday.
Prime Minister Bill English pictured talking on phone to US President Donald Trump yesterday.

English said Trump believed New Zealand was immune from immigration pressures, but that was not necessarily the case.

Interest in the leaders' first phone call was heightened after Trump reportedly yelled at Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week over a refugee deal between the two countries and cut short their scheduled hour-long phone call after half an hour.

English said he did not feel "short-changed" by his 15-minute conversation with the US President. Trump did not "bother with all the diplomatic niceties" so more ground could be covered in less time, he said.

English addressed him as "Mr President" ("I gather that's how he is addressed by everybody") and did not record the call. A staff member took notes as he spoke to Trump in his Crown limo on Auckland's waterfront.

The call had "a bit of a different feel than the public presentation of the President", English said.

And although Trump's election was "a setback for trade" it was not a setback not for the New Zealand-US relationship.

"We will just work around the decisions that they have made. As a small country we are used to that."


On China, English would not say whether Trump asked New Zealand to be more assertive on the South China Sea issue. Trump did not ask anything of New Zealand during the call - on the South China Sea or any other issue, he said.

"We had a general discussion about China which covered a range of issues - that's as far as I'll go."

English reiterated to reporters that New Zealand's position was that it wanted all parties to follow international rules in the South China Sea.

Newly appointed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said China should be barred from the islands it is building in the disputed waters and has compared its land reclamation to Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Earlier, English gave further details about the call in an interview with Radio New Zealand.

He said the conversation was split evenly between New Zealand issues and US issues.

Describing it as a "sensible and polite" call, English said he told Trump he disagreed with his travel ban on refugees and some immigrants.

"I think he's a man who is familiar with disagreement," English said.

The Prime Minister has been criticised by Opposition parties for not taking a stronger stance on Trump's hardline immigration policy.

"I'm not there to scold him, although a lot of people might like us to do that," English said.

"I want to get our points across, build a relationship, [and] ensure that when opportunities arise I can continue to communicate openly with the President."

English said he also told the President it was important that the US maintained its presence and interest in the Asia Pacific region.

"Because there has been some real concern that in pulling out of the [Trans Pacific Partnership] may signal some ongoing withdrawal of US interest.

"We don't want to see that happen. And I - in general terms - put that to the President."

English would not say whether he was uncomfortable with Trump's views on China's trade and its role in the South China Sea dispute.

But he said he hoped these "differences of view" would be dealt with "within the usual diplomatic channels".

"And that seems to be the signals that are coming from the US Administration. There was nothing I heard from the President yesterday that gave me any more cause for concern."

The leaders did not talk about climate change, though English said it was likely to be discussed in future conversations.

"In the first conversation I wouldn't expect to cover everything."

Although Trump's policy on immigration was clear, his policy on climate change was not, English said.

In the White House's official readout of Trump's call, it said the leaders "affirmed the close relationship and bilateral alliance between the United States and New Zealand".

That is despite the two countries having no formal alliance.

The readout was later changed to say the leaders "affirmed the close friendship and bilateral partnership" between the US and New Zealand.