Jacinda Ardern plans to visit United States, Britain, Europe and China when COVID-19 border settings change

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern plans to lead a business delegation to the United States, United Kingdom, European Union and China when the border settings change. 

The Prime Minister made the revelation during a speech to the business community in Auckland on Thursday where she laid out her Government's priorities after Labour won the election in a landslide. 

"When our border settings change I plan to lend my support to extending our trade efforts by leading a business delegation to key trading partners, including the US, China and the UK and EU, who we are currently in free trade talks with."

The border is still closed to the world expect for returning New Zealanders and a limited number of exceptions for essential workers, and Ardern said those settings will continue "for now" while the Government works on "what can be accommodated within those settings". 

"New Zealanders want and deserve a safe summer holiday, so our focus is on managing the existing risk profile," she said. "But our response does not end there. In fact, it is only the beginning. We have a constant eye to the future. To the time when we can expect to see a change in the COVID landscape we are currently operating in."

The Government now requires all returnees to have a voucher for the state-run managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities to align with hotel capacity and airline tickets, which has been criticised as a block for Kiwis to return home. 

"After failing to find a way of legally stopping Kiwis from coming home, the Government bullied Air New Zealand into limiting its flights, and has now put in place a voucher scheme restricting the number of MIQ places available," said ACT leader David Seymour. 

"The Government should be finding innovative ways to expand MIQ capacity instead of limiting New Zealanders' rights in an underhanded way. The virus isn't going anywhere. New Zealand can't afford to cut itself off from the world."

Ardern the Government tried to find a balance between bringing in more workers essential to economic recovery and ensuring there is space for New Zealanders wanting to return home to do so. 

ACT has called on the Government to open up managed isolation to private provision and Ardern acknowledged the need for more capacity, considering demand is high and at some points, at capacity in the lead up to Christmas.

"I am certainly not arguing that the only ones capable of managing a facility is a government agency. However, there are some basic provisions that we have to have in order to make quarantine work. These provisions are not limitless in their availability," she said. 

"Health staff and law enforcement are amongst them. Every health worker we remove from the system places pressure elsewhere. So let's keep the conversation on our borders going, but while remembering that they are key to our success."

Ardern said New Zealand's COVID-19 vaccine strategy is rolling out well. She said the Government has advanced purchase arrangements with Pfizer and BioNTech and are in negotiations with a number of others. The deals have cost hundreds of millions of dollars

"Based on current predictions, roll out of different vaccinations is likely to begin in earnest next year, albeit with some varying estimates around which quarter."

Ardern said until New Zealand is in a position to change the border settings, the focus will be on concluding trade agreements like RCEP, a trade agreement between New Zealand and 14 other Asian countries. 

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) represents the largest free trade agreement in the world along with the CPTPP, a Trans-Pacific trade partnership involving New Zealand and 10 other nations. 

"While it may not give us any new access, it will provide a single rule book covering 14 markets, which will significantly reduce complexity for exporters," Ardern said of RCEP, which has economic benefits likely to exceed $2 billion. 

"It is forecast to add over $400 billion to the world economy and shift global economic activity towards East Asia, and will support New Zealand's COVID recovery, especially since East Asia is forecast to recover more quickly than Europe and America," Ardern said. 

"RCEP demonstrates that while getting our borders open again will be important, we can continue to further our interests in the current environment. And we will."

The last time Ardern left New Zealand was in February for the annual Australia-New Zealand Leaders' Meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. She also visited Fiji earlier that month and met with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. 

Prior to that, Ardern met with both US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2019. 

Earlier that month, Ardern travelled to Japan where she held a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and promoted trade, economic and tourism opportunities.