I WAS invited to a business breakfast on commercial connections between the Philippines and New Zealand by His Excellency David Strachan, the Ambassador of New Zealand to the Philippines, to be graced no less than by the new Prime Minister of New Zealand, The Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern.
This took place the week of the Asean Summit here in Manila and, in spite of the flurry of commitments I had at the time, foremost of which were attending the Asean Opening Ceremonies, the Gala Dinner and the Closing Ceremonies, as well as moderating the Asean Business and Investment Summit 2017 (ABIS), I could not say no to my good friend, Ambassador Strachan.
Relations between the Philippines and New Zealand have spanned the breadth of more than half a century – almost the same as the life of Asean, if I may point out – and this relationship just keeps on getting stronger.
There has been a rise in commercial relations, as well as in tourism, migration, and person-to-person contact. Direct flights between the two countries have also increased in frequency. Philippine Airlines (PAL) will start direct flights to Auckland on December 6.
As of 2016, total trade between the two countries reached $ 745 million. Exports to New Zealand—roughly fruits and nuts, electronics, paint and dye, leather, and vegetables—amounted to $ 111 million.
Credit to this must also be given to the very hardworking Dr. Jesus “Gary” Domingo, Ph.D., Ambassador of the Republic of the Philippines to New Zealand, Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Samoa and Tonga.
There are around twenty established New Zealand companies operating in the Philippines. As of 2015, approximately 2,000 New Zealanders or Kiwis have called the Philippines home, while in New Zealand we have around 50,000 Filipinos living there. I believe that these numbers have increased since then.
There have been many regular visits by New Zealand ministers in the near past. In August of this year, for example, then-Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee visited the country for the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers Meeting. Two years ago, then Prime Minister John Key came to the Philippines for the APEC Leaders Meeting.
This visit now is significant, not just because it is part of the Asean Summit and related activities, but because New Zealand has a new Prime Minister in the person of Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda Kate Laurell Ardern became the 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand last October this year. The 40th Prime Minister, yes, but this Right Honourable member of the New Zealand Labour Party is not yet even 40. She is considered as the world’s youngest leader.
Up close and personal during our breakfast meeting, New Zealand’s new Prime Minister is as beautiful as the magnificent landscapes that
have made her country a favorite location for epic blockbuster movies like Lord of the Rings. Her captivating smile, youthful vigor and charming demeanor complement her intelligence and astute political sense.
Engaging her in lively discussions on politics and business shows that she feels her people’s pulse.
I also must make mention of the heartwarming presence of New Zealand Deputy Minister Winston Peters, who also serves as Foreign Minister and the leader of the New Zealand First party.
I sense only good things happening in the relations between the Philippines and New Zealand with President Duterte and Prime Minister Ardern at the helm.
As they say in that part of the world: All good, Bro! Shot!