4 Nov 2010

Clinton visit heralds new era of NZ-US relations

11:35 pm on 4 November 2010

The United States has committed itself to a closer political relationship with New Zealand.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in New Zealand as part of her visit to the Asia-Pacific region and signed the Wellington Declaration with Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully on Thursday.

Mrs Clinton said the relationship between the US and New Zealand is the strongest and most productive it has been in 25 years.

The Wellington Declaration, signed at Parliament, commits the two countries to hold regular meetings at the foreign minister level, to work together on trade and hold annual military talks.

It also states the US and New Zealand will work more closely together on practical projects in the Pacific.

Mrs Clinton said the agreement provides the opportunity for the countries to co-operate more closely on promoting economic development and democracy in the region.

It also meant greater co-operation on security, developing clean energy, responding to natural disasters and "emphasises the need to seek ideas from women, minorities and young leaders," she said.

"This Wellington Declaration makes it clear that we want to cooperate across the board in every aspect of our civilian efforts and our military as well."

Mrs Clinton said America wanted to speed up negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the regional trade deal. However, the US is not ruling in - or out - any bi-lateral trade agreements with any country in the region, she said.

Mr McCully said the declaration turns an important new page in the relationship between the two countries and is highly symbolic.

"Today we've decided we want to be more ambitious for the US-New Zealand relationship. The Wellington Declaration asserts a determination to do more and achieve more together."

Maori welcome at Parliament

Earlier, Mrs Clinton was officially welcomed at Parliament with a traditional Maori challenge, or powhiri, and was met by Prime Minister John Key, Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith and Mr McCully.

Mrs Clinton also met with Opposition leader Phil Goff from the Labour Party and attended a barbecue dinner hosted by Mr Key at Premier House in Wellington.

Peace Action Wellington staged a small but vocal protest outside Parliament calling for New Zealand troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan.

On Friday, Mrs Clinton will visit Christchurch, the South Island city badly damaged in a 7.1 magnitude quake in September.