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New Zealand’s TPP point man heads home

By Kristen Shane      

High commissioner was busy with trade and real estate.

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New Zealand’s message was clear when it sent Simon Tucker as its top diplomat to Canada in 2013.

The final sticky issues were about to be hashed out in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive Pacific Rim trade deal both countries were negotiating along with 10 others. And one bone of contention between Canada and New Zealand was dairy.

Enter Mr. Tucker, with a decade of experience in New Zealand’s dairy industry under his belt, including as the North America vice-president for trade strategy and government relations with Fonterra Co-operative Group, a leading New Zealand-based dairy exporter.

Now three years later, the TPP has been negotiated, though not implemented. It must still wind its way through ratification in the dozen countries involved, including the United States’ fraught political process.

And Mr. Tucker is on his way out. He was to have headed back to New Zealand’s commercial capital, Auckland, on Jan. 12.

On nearly every issue at the TPP table, Canada and New Zealand were on the same page and their negotiating teams worked well together, said the envoy, having folded his lanky frame into a comfortable chair in his high commission for a Dec. 10 interview.

But, he added, “It’s no secret that New Zealand is one of the largest dairy exporters in the world. And [with] Canada, with some of the highest trade barriers on dairy, this was going to be a difficult issue.”

Canada’s supply management system of dairy products means foreign producers are effectively shut out of the Canadian market unless they pay high tariffs.

Under the TPP, the Canadian dairy industry would see another 3.25 per cent of the market gobbled up by foreign producers.

“I think, ultimately, the outcome on dairy was probably not as good as New Zealand would have liked, but I think it’s a good deal,” said Mr. Tucker.

And though American primary season is “not the best backdrop for cool-headed assessment of important trade bills,” he figured there will be windows to allow the US Congress to move the TPP forward.

Though the trade deal took up most of his time in Canada, the two Commonwealth nations have a varied relationship that spans defence, immigration, security and political issues. Canada supported New Zealand’s bid to become a member of the United Nations Security Council for 2015-16, said Mr. Tucker, and has helped it while it's been on the council. New Zealand has leaned on Canada’s broader diplomatic network to help it understand certain regions where it doesn’t have missions of its own, said the envoy.

Besides these two priorities, “it’s been a bit of a real estate adventure as well.”

He and his wife Penny, who has become a fixture in the diplomatic community, and their daughters Lucy, Zara and Violet, were the first to move into New Zealand’s new Rockcliffe Park residence in 2013. Mr. Tucker also oversaw the high commission’s move from an office on Bank Street to the new Shopify building on Elgin Street last year.

Both the residence and high commission are designed to be sleek, modern and functional, allowing for a mix of space for official functions and work or home life behind the scenes.

The residence was a joint venture between New Zealand and Canadian architectural firms, he said, and the furnishings inside incorporate elements from both countries too.

Ottawa is a great place for a family, said Mr. Tucker, so it’s not without some regret that he’s leaving. He also spoke highly of Canadian government officials who were able to give him good access and provide thoughtful help, and he said he enjoyed building good contacts among members of the media and business groups.

“There’s several irons in the fire, but the most likely is that I’ll be returning to the private sector,” he said in the December interview, though he wouldn’t give any more hint as to what that would entail.  

It will continue his hybrid career, having spent about half his time in government and the other half in business.

“I should say I love working for the New Zealand foreign service, and it’s my strong hope and expectation that this won’t be the last chapter of my chance to work on behalf of New Zealand.”

A successor had yet to be named as of December. Mr. Tucker said he expected deputy Liz Halliday to lead the mission until about mid-February when the next high commissioner is expected.

kshane@embassynews.ca

@kristenshane1

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