It was a day of two halves for Jacinda Ardern on her New York marathon. It started with the US Chamber of Commerce joining her call to step-up trade in the Indo-Pacific and finished with her inviting The Late Show host Stephen Colbert to her wedding.
Analysis: If there’s one thing Jacinda Ardern mastered early on in her leadership, it’s agility.
It couldn’t have been on greater display than on her first day in the United States when she hit the ground running in New York.
Ardern is only in the city for one day and had a series of engagements and meetings that flicked between promoting New Zealand, trade talks, international conflict, climate change and an interview with an international comedy star.
Almost to remind herself she had changed tack, Ardern switched outfits for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, walking out to a packed live audience in a banging bright pink Juliette Hogan pant suit.
That appearance was impacted by the late-morning school shooting in Texas, which saw at least 18 children and a teacher shot dead at an elementary school, requiring Colbert to rewrite parts of his show.
Colbert kicked off the interview with the news of the deadliest shooting at a US grade school since the 2012 Sandy Hook attack.
It meant Ardern pivoted too, with the first half of the interview spent discussing New Zealand’s gun reforms in the wake of the Christchurch terror attacks.
Her comments to Colbert that she sees attacks as happened in Texas from the perspective of a mother, rather than a politician, drew applause from the audience.
As did her explanation that there was a place for guns in New Zealand when it came to things like pest control, “but we don’t need semi-automatic military style weapons to do that”.
From there, though, the interview moved into a more traditional Colbert affair, with chat about the time he visited New Zealand and Ardern personally picked him up, to cute Neve stories, fiancé Clarke Gayford giving her Covid for Mother’s Day, and a scribbled invitation to Colbert and his wife to attend their wedding on a date yet to be decided.
Colbert and Ardern clearly have good rapport and seamlessly moved from one topic to the next.
And while Ardern went into the interview set on telling America the borders were back open in New Zealand and tourists welcome, it was Colbert’s glowing recall of his own trip and his desire to visit again that would have had the greater impact.
Ardern is also in the States to help promote New Zealand businesses and foster relationships that could help Kiwi companies looking to enter or grow in the market.
Silver Fern Farms – New Zealand’s biggest meat processor – already has an in with the US market, selling premium Kiwi beef and it launched its new carbon zero beef alongside Ardern at an event shortly before her Colbert appearance.
Ardern gave the company the biggest boost it could imagine when she announced on Colbert’s show that she’d brought a cooler full of the product for the host to try.
The plug for Silver Fern Farms got more airtime than Ardern probably expected, as she initially referred to the cooler as an Esky and then chilly bin.
Colbert had no idea what she was talking about, and the audience lapped it up.
Her comments to Colbert that she sees attacks like what happened in Texas from the perspective of a mother, rather than a politician, drew applause from the audience.
But it was earlier in the day when she met representatives from the US Chamber of Commerce and Blackrock, a company that manages investments in the trillions, that would have pricked up New Zealand business ears.
The Chamber’s executive vice president told traveling Kiwi media after the meeting that he’d been clear with Ardern that American businesses would like to see their President sign up to the CPTPP.
Myron Brilliant said it was a mistake for former President Donald Trump to pull out of the then-TPP and it was another mistake that President Joe Biden wasn’t reconsidering joining.
Brilliant said the US needed to “show-up” and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework announced by Biden in Tokyo on Monday night NZT “is not enough”.
“We need to be there not just to counterweight China, but to advance US geopolitical and economic strategies in the most dynamic and vibrant region in the world,” he said.
On the US relationship with China, Brilliant said the two countries needed to have some face-to-face dialogue.
He described the relationship as an important one that the US needed to “get right”.
It’s a topic that was clearly raised by United Nations General Secretary António Guterres at a meeting with Ardern a short time later.
Asked by Newsroom if China had come up with Guterres, particularly in light of Biden’s comments that the US would respond militarily if China invaded Taiwan, Ardern said it wasn’t for her to speak on behalf of others.
All Ardern would say on the matter that New Zealand wanted to see “peace and stability in the region, including in any discussions around increasing tensions with Taiwan”.
The other topic that featured heavily in Ardern’s meetings and interview with Colbert was New Zealand’s pandemic response.
Colbert referred to the country’s high vaccination rate and complete closure of its borders, prompting Ardern to reflect on the day her Cabinet made that decision and the emotion she had felt in doing so.
The pandemic is still raging in the United States, and in many states cases have spiked again.
In downtown New York there are almost turnaround Covid-testing tents, dotted about every 200m apart on the side of footpaths.
But there was barely anyone using them in and around Grand Central Station, despite warm spring weather and a lot of foot traffic.
Ardern was subject to the strict Covid restrictions that are still in place for entry to the US, which means someone must be 10 days past their positive test result before being able to fly.
It delayed her arrival and meant the Los Angeles leg of the trip was scrapped.
Her recent Covid exposure has also been causing a logistical headache for officials trying to secure a White House visit and meeting with Biden.
The two countries have spent the past week trying to negotiate a time for Ardern to visit, and it’s expected a decision will be made by early Thursday morning NZT.
Ardern and her delegation are headed to Washington overnight for a day visit to meet with a number of Senators before heading onto Boston, where she has been invited to guest speak at the Harvard University Commencement.