NZ Ambassador to Trump’s Washington recalled

New Zealand Ambassador to the US Tim Groser (centre, in blue), pictured at a gala at the embassy in 2017.

WELLINGTOPN, 06 AUGUST 2018 (NZ HERALD) – New Zealand’s ambassador to Washington DC is being pulled from the post, as the government begins a clean-out of less favoured diplomats.

Tim Groser will stay in the US until the end of the year, long enough to welcome Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and baby Neve to the UN General Assembly in New York in September.

This week Trump signed the new KIWI Act into law, allowing greater visa access for New Zealanders and opening the door for skilled migrants – but it’s been a rare breakthrough in an otherwise hostile White House. Critically, Groser failed to win New Zealand (once described as a “very, very, very good friend” of the US) an exemption from harsh new steel tariffs. That is threatening to cripple NZ’s steel industry.

Groser, a former trade minister criticised for his enjoyment of the good life at public expense, took up the Washington posting in 2016.

Sources indicated a new ambassador had already been selected from within the ranks of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was merely awaiting official sign-off.

Former High Commissioner to Australia Chris Seed and Ministry deputy chief executive Bede Corry were among those tipped to fly the Kiwi flag Stateside.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters has made clear his disdain for political appointments to key foreign postings, calling out a “mainly white brorocracy”.

“Winston Peters is not enamoured with political appointments and has singled out Groser’s appointment as the reason why,” said one source. “His performance has been underwhelming. Winston has been sensitive about lopping people’s heads off, but Groser had a target on his back.”

A three-year stretch for the Washington ambassador is unusual – the last four envoys have all been for four or more years. When Groser was appointed in December 2015, former prime minister John Key made no mention of constraining the length of his term.

But Groser’s time in Washington did not produce a lot of positive headlines, during a turbulent time in the American capital.

Earlier this year, New Zealand was not in the list of countries exempt from paying a tariff on steel, but Australia was – one reason cited as contributing to Groser’s early return home.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Groser’s term was up. “New Zealand Ambassador to the United States Hon Tim Groser will be leaving his position at the conclusion of his three-year appointment,” he said.

“The process to appoint a successor is underway and an announcement will be made in due course, as with all New Zealand Heads of Mission appointments.”

Groser replaced former prime minister Mike Moore, who was in the job for five years, who returned to New Zealand because of ill-health. Before that Roy Ferguson and Jim Bolger, another former prime minister, each held the post for four years. John Wood had two four-year stints.

The US is New Zealand’s third-largest trading partner and a high-value market for exporters. Groser was minister of trade under Prime Minister John Key.

Former trade minister Todd McClay, on the phone from Singapore, said Groser had done a brilliant job and it was a shame he was going, especially after the KIWI Act was signed off by Trump. “With what he has achieved, the Government would have been wise to have kept him on,” McLay said.

McClay knew Peters had indicated that it would not be a political appointment, and was not sure who the replacement would be. But it was by no means the end of the road for Groser, as a number of doors would open for someone of his calibre, McLay said.

Jim Bolger believed Groser had done a “wonderful job”. Groser seemed to have all the right contacts when Bolger called on him two or three months back.

Bolger was unsure why Groser was leaving the post. “I think the uncertainty of the the Trump administration policies would make it difficult for all the diplomats.”

Groser served as a trade negotiator from the mid 1980s, and was previously ambassador to Indonesia and the World Trade Organisation. As National’s trade minister, he was instrumental in Trans Pacific Partnership talks, but he lost out on the top WTO job in 2013.

Also due to be announced soon is the new ambassador to Ireland. It is a much-desired job because Dublin is home to the governing World Rugby board – and the Irish Government is a key player in tense Brexit negotiations.

Former foreign minister Murray McCully was linked to the appointment, but Peters nixed that when he took over as foreign minister in October.

More Stories