Jacinda Ardern's face-to-face with Joe Biden is 'critical' - analyst

The Prime Minister's recent COVID-19 diagnosis could jeopardise her meeting with United States President Joe Biden.

Jacinda Ardern has just finished her seven-day isolation period and is jetting off to Washington DC, but the White House's strict virus protocols have thrown the face-to-face into doubt.

An audience at the White House with the Leader of the Free World is the ultimate chief-to-chief for New Zealand Prime Ministers past. 

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark's 2007 sit-down with then-President George W Bush went so well that he invited her to lunch. 

"All in all I found it to be a constructive conversation, such a good conversation I've decided to invite her to lunch," Bush said at the time. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern lucked out with former President Donald Trump, never getting the coveted Oval Office invite. The pair met in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in 2019.

Trump's successor Joe Biden has finally made it happen for Ardern. But her recent COVID-19 diagnosis is threatening to derail the one-on-one. 

"Some of these issues around COVID protocol sit slightly outside of our control and outside of our jurisdiction," Ardern said at her post-Cabinet press conference on Monday. 

Ardern pointed blame squarely at COVID-19. 

"We wouldn't be discussing COVID protocols if there wasn't an intention to meet."

In a world opening up from COVID-19 and powerful players like Russia and China posing threats to international norms, New Zealand cannot afford to be left behind, according to international relations expert Professor Al Gillespie of Waikato University. 

"We've been very close to the Five Eyes and to the United States and we rely on them now more than ever for international security so to be there and be part of those direct conversations," Prof Gillespie told Newshub. 

"It's critical."

It's also the Prime Minister's chance to promote Aotearoa as a top tourist destination for Americans and put our products back on the map.

The US is New Zealand's third-largest trading partner. Two-way trade is worth more than $18 billion. And pre-COVID, Americans made up 10 percent of our tourists.

"If I could have one wish it would be that New Zealand got a free trade deal with America," Prof Gillespie told Newshub. 

"I think our economies should be more interlinked than they are. It's an anomaly that they aren't. Especially when you consider we've just concluded a new free trade agreement with Britain."

Trump was elected in 2016 on the back of a campaign that focused on cutting trade ties, including pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) which New Zealand signed up to.

An updated version of it without the US - the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) - was signed by New Zealand in March 2018. 

The agreement gave New Zealand better market access to the signatories, including Japan, Canada, Mexico and Peru which New Zealand didn't have existing free trade agreements with.

Gillespie hopes Biden will bring the US back into the CPTPP and maybe even negotiate a separate trade deal with New Zealand. 

Ardern's trip to the US also includes a meeting with the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York and a special speaking spot at Harvard University, following in the footsteps of Oprah Winfrey who spoke in 2013. 

Ardern then jets west to meet the Governor of California Gavin Newsom and catch up with top tech bosses from Microsoft and Twitter. 

It's a demanding trip for a COVID-recovering Prime Minister determined to prove the virus cannot win.