What Amazon said to Jacinda Ardern in confidential letter

By Phil Pennington of RNZ

A newly released letter from Amazon to then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shows the US tech firm celebrating an "ambitious partnership" with the New Zealand government.

RNZ sought the release of the letter after it was initially withheld under an Official Information Act request months ago.

Large parts of the six-page letter sent to Ardern in July last year, shortly after she visited Amazon's US headquarters in May, are blanked out.

The parts which are not blanked out are a much-truncated echo of a seven-page letter sent to the prime minister a year before.

Amazon, and other US tech firms, have lobbied the government strongly to have input on changes to public service digitisation and especially the government push for cloud-computing - now occurring at scale in the courts, health, water services and more - and for support of the data centres they are building.

In the July 2022 letter marked 'Amazon confidential', the chief executive of Amazon Web Services (AWS) said the firm was "even more confident" after the May meeting in Seattle about AWS investing in New Zealand.

AWS has said its data centres here will add $7.5 billion to the economy over 15 years.

An independent cost-benefit analysis has not been available, and little information about any government analysis of the impact on jobs has come to light from RNZ inquiries.

"We welcome your commitment to an ambitious partnership between AWS and the New Zealand Government and memorializing that in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)," the chief executive officer told Ardern in July 2022.

The MOU was signed in late 2022.

The letter referred to pushing on with MOU commitments for "enabling public sector cloud adoption that can deliver more citizen-centric outcomes" and educating regulators about cloud technologies.

Amazon's rival Microsoft has had its own MOU since 2017, but the government kept this confidential until early this year. Only these two firms have MOUs like this; they are non-binding.

The letter also refers to building cloud-computing skills and jobs locally, cybersecurity and sustainability.

Two full pages under the heading "attachment 1" are blanked out on the grounds that releasing it to the public might deter Amazon from supplying similar information in future.