Jacinda Ardern meets with Joe Biden at East Asia Summit – New Zealand Herald

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NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on the topics up for discussion during her brief catch-up with US President Joe Biden at the East Asia Summit. Video / Claire Trevett

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has grabbed her only chance for a direct chat with US President Joe Biden in her week of summits, snaring a 10-15 minute informal talk at the East Asia Summit (EAS) gala dinner.

Ardern had not sought a formal meeting with Biden while she was in Cambodia for the summit, saying she had met with him on the White House visit in May.

However, she had said she would try to talk to him informally on the sidelines at some point, saying that was often more useful than a formal talk.

A photo of the catch-up shows Ardern crouching next to Biden’s chair just before the leaders were due to leave the dinner.


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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern crouches next to US President Joe Biden at the gala dinner ahead of the East Asia Summit in Cambodia. Photo / Supplied
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern crouches next to US President Joe Biden at the gala dinner ahead of the East Asia Summit in Cambodia. Photo / Supplied

Biden is not attending Apec in Thailand later in the week so it was her only chance.

Ardern said later they had caught up on the conversations they had on her visit to the White House earlier in the year, including her pitch for easier access for New Zealand’s infant milk powder to help relieve the infant milk shortage in the US.

She had told him of A2 Milk’s success in getting temporary approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to sell its product in the US.

And she said she had raised a long-standing rankle: the US refusal to include New Zealand among the countries it exempts from tariffs on steel and aluminium. “Whilst highlighting the positive, just a little reminder on steel and aluminium tariffs over dinner as well.”


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She said the vast majority of the conversation was “normal conversation.”

“Leaders do still talk about normal things, like family.” She had also had a “very brief” exchange with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. While New Zealand has taken action against Canada over access to its market under the CPTPP, the exchange at EAS was a tad more mundane. “Just jetlag, things like that. As I say, we have quite normal conversations as well. We don’t just get into transacting the business.”

Ardern said she and Biden had started talking in the Holding Room where leaders waited to be called in for the dinner, but were interrupted so she carried it on later.

While leaders have been watching to see how the US mid-term elections might have on Biden’s Indo-Pacific Strategy , the news came through on Sunday that the Democrats had secured the majority in the Senate after those mid-terms – making Biden late to the main EAS summit.

New Zealand officials are optimistic Ardern will have a formal meeting with President Xi Jinping of China at the Apec summit – both Biden and XI are attending a G20 summit in Indonesia in the next few days, while Ardern will leave for Vietnam on a trade delegation ahead of Apec.

Official photos also showed Ardern talking to World Economic Forum executive chairman Klaus Schwab as she entered the dinner.

The East Asia Summit was held on Sunday. It consists of 10 South East Asian countries which form the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), plus eight others with interests in the region (the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, Russia, South Korea, and India). Russia has sent diplomat Sergei Lavrov, while there are no representatives at the summit for Myanmar.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern enters the  East Asia Summit gala dinner with World Economic Forum President Klaus Schwab. Photo / Supplied
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern enters the East Asia Summit gala dinner with World Economic Forum President Klaus Schwab. Photo / Supplied

It remains part of the grouping, but members of the military junta since the 2021 coup were told not to attend.

Leaders at the summit are focusing on the economic and security challenges in the region – from the Ukraine war and its flow-on pressures on the cost of living globally, to geopolitical tensions.

Those tensions also include the involvement of China and the US in the Pacific, China’s approach to Taiwan and the South China Sea, and the military junta in Myanmar.


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Ardern said there were “clouds” hanging over the region, and that New Zealand would be encouraging a united stand on Russia and Myanmar.

Ardern said countries at the summit had different positions on issues such as Russia and the war in Ukraine. “Our job is to continue to push our strong position and seek for our partners to join us. Because ultimately it is about the principle of what has happened there. What if it were us? We would want the international community to come onside and support us over what is a very, very clear breach of international law.”

In his opening address – the only part of the summit which was public – Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen did not directly refer to either country, but spoke of the challenges the region faced, and the EAS’ wish for “peace, stability, security and development” in the region.

A trade upgrade with ASEAN

The summit kicked off just as an upgrade to the Asean-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade agreement was announced by Ardern, Australian PM Anthony Albanese and Asean representatives, after two years of work.

Ardern said it did not open new markets but did cut the red tape to get goods across borders. That would benefit exporters.

She said the Asean block of 10 countries was New Zealand’s third-largest trading group, totalling $17 billion in two-way trade each year.


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“When you compare the amount of growth we’ve seen in New Zealand’s trade in this part of the world, what we trade now in a week used to be what we traded in the 1970s in a year. It’s been dramatic growth. Upgrades like this will only help it grow.”

Ardern also has a meeting with the Cambodian PM at the Peace Palace before leaving tomorrow to travel to Vietnam for a trade delegation.