Jacinda Ardern reveals what she talked about with US Vice President Mike Pence

Jacinda Ardern argued New Zealand's case on trade in her discussion with Mike Pence.

The Prime Minister sat next to the US Vice President at a gala dinner on Wednesday evening (local time) at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit (ASEAN).

Mr Pence had specifically requested to be seated next to Ms Ardern, sparking a flurry of media interest.

At the dinner, the Prime Minister was in fact seated next to Mr Pence's wife Karen, with the Vietnamese Prime Minister on her other side.

She told media after the dinner she had fully expected to be sitting with both Pences, and that she was "not overly fixated" on why he'd made the seating request.

"It was an excellent opportunity to have a general conversation about politics, family life - but also a substantive conversation with the Vice President on trade matters and New Zealand's economic position," she said.

Karen Pence sat between her husband Mike and Jacinda Ardern.
Karen Pence sat between her husband Mike and Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub.

Ms Ardern said their trade discussion was long enough to be significant, and was "specific" rather than wide-ranging - but confirmed she had raised the issue of steel tariffs.

"It would have been remiss of me not to raise the issue of tariffs," she said. "I put forward the case on behalf of New Zealand."

Ms Ardern wrote to US President Donald Trump earlier in the year asking for an exemption to new tariffs the US placed on New Zealand steel imports.

In her conversation with Mr Pence, she made the case for a wider trade proposition and the benefits that could come from increasing trade between the US and New Zealand.

She said Mr Pence took her feedback on board and indicated there was an ongoing discussion to be had about trade between the two countries.

"He had a very genuine interest in New Zealand," she said of the Vice President.

When asked if she had made the same point she did in her United Nations speech - about the need for countries to break down walls and resist the urge to retreat - she said when she spoke about New Zealand trade it was from that same perspective.

"We need some predictability around trade - retreating isn't an option for an isolated country like New Zealand," she said.

"That's why we support multilateralism and a rules-based system."

When asked if she clashed with Mr Pence over the US' preference for a bilateral approach, she was characteristically diplomatic.

"There's no question we've taken different positions - that doesn't mean there's no room for us to highlight New Zealand's position," she said. "We'll continue to be an advocate under those conditions as well."

Mr Pence is notoriously conservative on social issues, but Ms Ardern said they found common ground in talking about how family life and politics intersect.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters briefly joined in the conversation as well, and told media he was "staggered" by their interest in the seating arrangement.

"This is so normal. Mr Pence was surrounded on both sides by people's wives."

He said he thought the Vice President's request was "rather special", and thanked him for the opportunity for discussion.

Ms Ardern said she spoke with several other world leaders during the dinner, including South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the Prime Ministers of Thailand and Vietnam.

When pressed on the details of her discussion with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ms Ardern was quick to retort that it was a standard catch-up at dinner.

"We're actually humans who have human conversations as well."

Mr Peters did his own share of networking.

"I had a whole lot of talks with a whole lot of people," he quipped, with Ms Ardern advocating for his skills in "working a room".

On Thursday, the Prime Minister will have bilateral meetings with the leaders of Singapore, Malaysia and Japan.