Winston Peters, Judith Collins, Ross Meurant and North Korea,
By Richard Harman (author)
A former National MP and NZ First “bagman” has proposed a plan to get New Zealand ready to profit from any opening up of North Korea that may occur after the talks between President Trump and Kim Il Sung.
Ross Meurant has put a proposal to Foreign Minister Winston Peters to finance a Kapa Haka group to go to North Korea. as a forerunner to building up exports of New Zealand food to the country.
Meurant is one of New Zealand politics’ more colourful characters – though he is involved politically with Judith Collins he frequently defends Russia, Syria and North Korea and abuses President Trump.
And it may be that he is the inspiration behind Winston Peters' recent proposal for a Free Trade Agreement with North Korea --- – an idea that even one of the Labour MPs closest to Peters, Trade Minister David Parker dismissed as a joke.
But there have been more to Peters’ comments than Parker realised.
Peters and Meurant were once close political allies, and Meurant acted as NZ First’s “bagman” collecting donations for the party from 1999 to 2204.
But that relationship soured over Peters’ allegations of corruption in the allocation of scampi quotas in 2003..
Meurant was also involved with Sumunovich Fisheries, the company that Peters initially alleged benefitted from the corrupt allocation of the quotas though he later withdrew the allegation.
Meurant was a contemporary of Peters as a National MP from 1987 to 1993 and then formed his own Conservative Party before losing his seat in 1996.
He has recently returned to National Party politics and is a member of the party’s electorate executive in Papakura; Judith Collins’ seat.
His website contains a picture of him with Collins’ husband, David Wong-Tung, in Morocco.
But though Meurant’s relations with Peters are now frosty, he has continued to send him emails detailing his contacts with North Korea and most recently his kapa haka proposal.
Peters visited Pyongyang in 2007 when he was Helen Clark's Foreign Minister and said that then-President Kim Jong Il’s regime was making good progress on denuclearisation.
If things progressed well, North Korea would need help to rebuild its economy, and New Zealand could help.
Peters met the President of the Praesidium of the Supreme Peoples' Assembly, Kim Yong-Nam, Foreign Minister Pak Ui-Chun, and the Ministers of Trade and Agriculture.
He said the North Koreans were keen to expand their relationship with New Zealand, and areas where the two countries might co-operate were canvassed.
The argument, that once North Korea opens up, it could be a good market for New Zealand, was also presented to Peters by Meurant.
He has been exploring the idea of exporting New Zealand agricultural and aquacultural expertise to the country.
He says that the North Korean climate --- below zero for much of the winter months – is not conducive to growing enough food to have an abundance and that could provide opportunities for New Zealand.
“What can they sell to us … well, they are not stupid at all,” he told POLITIK.
“They could send technicians who could enhance our computer skills.”
He said their science sector, as evidenced by the nuclear arms industry, was very advanced.
"At the other end of the scale, they have a big construction worker force.
“They have workers in China and also in Russia, so perhaps we could import workers from North Korea to help them recover from the problems they have had.”
But the immediate problem is first the sanctions, and then even if a product can be found to sell there that is exempt from the sanctions, there is a challenge in remitting money out of the country.
The United Nations Security Council adopted a US-drafted resolution to levy new sanctions on North Korea last September.
They cap North Korea’s oil imports, ban textile exports, end additional overseas labourer contracts, suppress smuggling efforts, stop joint ventures with other nations, and sanction designated North Korea government entities.
Meurant has found it difficult to get money out of the country, and that has meant he has been unable to supply New Zealand scientists and technologists to advise on agriculture and aquaculture.
Meanwhile he is working on getting a kapa haka group there.
“Ther North Koreans are very keen to have a group go up there,” he said.
"It's costly; there's no subsidy for inward groups.
"Winston seems to share a similar approach to me, that we should do things through dialogue, my hope is that he will look at providing some funding for a group to go up there.
“The good news for Winston is that I won’t go with it so he can go along!”
Meurant operates on the fringes of New Zealand’s international trade --- he was done business with Russia and Syria and is the Honorary Consul for Morocco.
On his blog, he argued strongly against condemning Russia over the British spy poisoning case and is a frequent critic of President Trump.
He and Peters may have fallen out but Meurant’s penchant for contrarian thinking and how much notice he takes of him is debatable but Meurant gives a useful insight into the kind of thinking which can be found at the heart of New Zealand First.
Ultimately it is another example of the party's suspicion of establishment power and its preference either for entities outside the power establishment or old established conservative entities like the Commonwealth.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tried to explain away Peters’ original comments about North Korea by saying that Peters was indicating efforts should be made to keep dialogue with North Korea open.
"We have to try to have dialogue with countries like North Korea because that's how we try to de-escalate and denuclearise," she told Newstalk ZB,
"And you do that so that they will be part of the international order.
"That was the comment he was making. We are not undertaking an FTA with North Korea."
That also gives a slight hint that all may not be well in the relationship between the Prime Minister and Peters --- and that Peters is beginning to do what he has always done in Government and that is to strike out on his own, often with little warning to his colleagues or partners.
A Free Trade Agreement with North Korea fits that modus operandi perfectly as well as the kind of thinking that tends to gravitate towards NZ First.