Ambassadors Archive 1

New Zealand: Former Prime Minister James Bolger

New Zealand's New Ambassador to the U.S.

By Joanne Haahr

The Right Honorable James Bolger was Prime Minister of New Zealand from October 1990 to December 1997. He led the National Party for almost 12 years and had three consecutive terms as the country's head of government.

Under his leadership the New Zealand economy was transformed from having the lowest growth rate among the 29 OECD nations, to today having one of the strongest. New Zealand is now recognized as being among the most open and competitive economies in the world.

Mr. Bolger's administration pursued an outward-looking foreign policy to strengthen New Zealand's relationships, especially in the Asia/Pacific region. New Zealand is active in international peacekeeping and at the U.N.
Born in Taranaki in 1935, he was a beef and sheep farmer before entering national politics in 1972 when elected to Parliament for King County.

In 1975 he became a Parliamentary Under-Secretary, in 1977 the Minister of Fisheries, and following the 1978 election, Ministers of Labor and Immigration. He went on to serve as President of the International Labor Organization and Leader of the National Party and Opposition. In 1990 he led the National Party to the biggest electoral victory in history.
He retired as Prime Minister in December, 1997, and was appointed Minister of State and Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In March of this year he was named as the new ambassador to the U.S., and he arrived in Washington in June.

Today he lists part-time farming, watching sports (especially rugby), fishing, tramping and reading as his pastimes.

He and his wife, Joan, have nine children and four grandchildren.

I asked Mr. Bolger how the economic downturn in Asia has affected his country.
Ambassador Bolger: It has had a significant, direct impact on New Zealand, and the flattening of these fast-growing markets has resulted in lost market opportunity. The secondary impact is that Australia was also significantly exposed, and that is a major market in itself. So the resultant slow growth in New Zealand, down to little more than zero, is forecasted to last until at least the end of the year. Then we predict a strong bounce back. With the reforms in the New Zealand economy over the last two years, we can face this with confidence in that government, the banking system, and private sector accounts are sound. We'll bounce back, but the immediate impact will be quantitative.

Q: What are your primary goals in your new position?

A: There are many, but the overall ambition is to maintain the best possible relationship between Wellington and Washington in issues of mutual interest. In most instances, we will be working together in international forums. We would like the administration to achieve fast track negotiation authority so they can play a leading role in international trade talks, and to pursue a Free Trade Agreement between New Zealand and Washington.

In the security area there are still matters of disagreement in principle. But we want, and I want, a prompt solution to ensure that New Zealand and the U.S. have the best possible security arrangements and defense force cooperation, given our disagreement on nuclear issues. I am delighted that we have progressed in this area to a very good relationship. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in New Zealand recently that the relationship with New Zealand was one of the best the U.S. had.

With strong trade relations, it is much less likely to have differences on security issues. Trading links and trading opportunities are very important to the state of the world, and you don't want segments of the world locked out.

Q: When you look back on your achievements as Prime Minister, what makes you most proud ?

A: There are many things about which we can be proud. The New Zealand economy is perfectly sound, and I am proud of our strong, robust tradition that enables us to weather the difficulties of the world economy. I am pleased with the role I played in providing the resources to continue to improve education and health. I am also proud of the up-front way we've dealt with our Maori people. We have made great progress in this area of tremendous importance to us as a country, progressively settling claims outstanding for over a hundred years. And I can point to the enthusiasm with which New Zealanders are embracing the liberating force of new technology. What we have done is to reduce to zero the impact of distance; we're very proud of that.