Going on the Prime Minister’s Latin American swing sounds glamorous (and in some parts it is). But you have to be seriously interested in New Zealand’s push to deepen its engagement with countries like Mexico, Columbia, Chile and Brazil to sign up for a 12 day trip: 15 separate flights, seven different hotels, multiple conferences and meetings and the challenge of managing sleep deprivation, high altitudes and jet lag seemingly all at once.
John Key couldn’t join the mission until Mexico City (he had to chair Cabinet through its decisions on the Mighty River Power float before heading off; so he and his team took a commercial flight to Los Angeles then another short commercial hop to Mexico City). The 22-business people, assorted senior officials and government department heads, journalists and crew took the long way.
The Airforce’s 757 left the NZDF’s Whenuapai base at 2am on Sunday morning, March 3 (NZ time) It was lights out and off to sleep until a rude awakening when we touched down in Samoa just three hours later for a refuel. At least the coffee was great and a real pickup before we headed back to the plane for the long flight up to Hawaii where we were to overnight at Waikiki beach. The great thing about traveling with the airforce on a trade mission is the friendly but professional way they take charge and make flights as pleasant as possible. There are three categories: First – for the PM, Cabinet Ministers and senior officials; Business Class – with comfy seats for the business delegation but not flat bed seats; and Economy which is where the journalists, some officials and the crew hang out. I’ve been lucky enough to score 25F on this trip – a spot by the window in Economy with three seats to myself which will make it easy to stretch out for naps.
There was a chance on this leg to talk to several business people on the mission who are already doing interesting business in Latin America. Malcolm Waite from Air New Zealand Gas Turbines gave me some interesting insights into AirNZ’s business: it has relationships with customers dating back 30 years. Currently it supports the Chilean Navy’s P3 Orion aircraft, Pemex (Mexico) with LM2500 repairs and overhauls and is the preferred provider of an LM5000 power generation plant in Columbia. Malcolm – who heads AirNZ Gas Turbines’ commercial division – explained the highly competitive gas turbines business was a huge market. Each engine bringing in a large amount of money – $US3.5-$US4 million. Waite hoped the John Key mission would enable the company’s business to be better understood in Mexico where NZTE had helped by setting up an agent. In Columbia, Waite wanted to touch base with key customers in Bogata where there had been some issues over reliability at their plant. I’ll be catching up with Waite later in the mission to hear how his meetings went and to learn more about the business.
Peter Cullen from the Wellington Chamber of Commerce did not at first blush seem a likely candidate for a Latin American trade mission. Cullen is an employment lawyer. But he is seriously interested in Latin America , particularly Columbia – he is the honorary consul for Colombia in New Zealand. Talking with Cullen it seemed he is enthralled with the rapid economic transformation taking place in Colombia, with President Santos carrying his predecessor’s policies further as the influence of drug cartels and terrorists is diminished. It is interesting to note that the world’s third biggest bank HSBC has created an economic outlook in 2050 where Colombia is seen playing a decisive role in the global economy, especially in the Americas as the number 25 in the world economies measured by GDP. Today Colombia is the third largest oil producer in Latin America and it is estimated that by 2012, Colombia will be producing a million barrels a day. Cullen reckons Bogata (Colombia’s capital which we visit after Mexico City) is “really moving” – with good prospects for New Zealand on the education front.
NZTE chief executive Peter Chrisp shared some insights into NZTE’s strategies for Latin America. Fundamentally it is very company focused: “We’re very focused on what the companies are focused on – their success is our success.” Most of the companies represented on this mission are already in-market – looking to grow their customers in-market or grow to other markets. Chrisp was upbeat about the quality of the companies on the mission and signaled out several that stood a good
chance of leveraging the growing Latin American markets via agri-techology and niche manufacturing.
Chrisp has been dubbed the “Energiser Bunny” by staff. Some of the businessmen on the Latin American mission who have been enticed to join Chrisp on punishing runs probably use stronger words. Chrisp (pictured above on arrival at the Sheraton hotel at Waikiki beach) challenged mission members to join him on a refreshing run up Honoulu’s Diamond Head to get them sorted out for the week ahead.
The bags were late in from the airport. But that didn’t stop Chrisp and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy cracking a quick pace up Diamond Head and back to the hotel for some fortification for the journey ahead.
Here is where the more sedate members of the mission hung out. Others went for a dip down on Waikiki Beach. The water was cold but, Hey what do you expect? It is winter there.
Two other businesspeople shared some insights into their Latin America business over dinner at a Japanese restaurant. Flightcell’s James Mace and NZ Agriseeds Murray Willocks see big potential for their firms. Flightcell has its own proprietary voice and data encryption system. Its military customers include the Colombian air force. Willocks sees considerable upside for his company as Latin America countries develop their agriculture sector.
Getting up was an effort. Bags had to be taken to the hotel lobby at 3.15am. Then onto the bus at 4.15am for a quick ride to the airport to board for the second time in pitch black in barely over 24 hours for the next leg to San Diego,
On this leg, Andy Lewis from New Zealand Pharmaceutical (NZP) told me a lot about the process of extracting high purity bile acids from animals for use in pharmaceuticals to treat liver disease. (As an aside – I hadn’t understood why Chinese put such a high price on bear bile until talking with Andy). NZP is a great story; it sources a great deal of its raw product through the Latin American beef industry.
Then it was down to watching Homeland – I missed the first series and wanted to know if Carrie and Brody came across as nut bars right from the beginning.
San Diego was uneventful – purely a refuel stop. Then it was onto Mexico City where we arrived on Sunday evening (Mexico time) ready for the start of the formal programme.