sad but true
The Government has sent a strong signal that top trade official Tim Groser should be removed as chairman of worldwide talks worth billions of dollars to New Zealand.
Prime Minister Helen Clark made it clear yesterday that the Government had lost confidence in Mr Groser newly confirmed as a National Party candidate continuing to chair the World Trade Organisation's agricultural negotiations committee.
Mr Groser was stood down as New Zealand ambassador to the WTO yesterday, and intends to resign by the end of the week. But he wants to stay as agricultural chairman a WTO rather than New Zealand Government appointment for key negotiations to end export subsidies.
Mr Groser's term as chairman runs till December, when trade ministers meet in Hong Kong to discuss progress on the talks. The agricultural committee will also hold a crucial meeting in Geneva in July.
Miss Clark launched a stinging attack on Mr Groser, describing him as dispensable to New Zealand's cause. She signalled New Zealand expected the WTO to dump him as agricultural chairman.
"It's up to the WTO who it appoints. . . but whether the WTO would want to go down the track of employing someone who can't enjoy the confidence of a member state and has resigned as ambassador is something the WTO would want to consider.
"He was able to get that job because he was a Geneva-based trade ambassador. He will no longer be a Geneva-based trade ambassador, and that is something the WTO needs to reflect on."
Government sources said Miss Clark's comments were significant because WTO appointments were by consensus, and that was now gone.
Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Simon Murdoch said the Government would consult WTO leaders on Mr Groser's position.
But Mr Groser was adamant he could remain as chairman and said he would stay in Geneva at his expense. Finding a replacement required all 148 countries to agree, which was unlikely at this crucial stage.
National says Mr Groser can stay in Geneva rather than campaign during the election. Leader Don Brash also promised that should Mr Groser be elected, he could stay in Geneva till December.
Dr Brash accused Labour of playing politics with the national interest by opposing Mr Groser's staying on.
"It is insane to throw aside the bipartisan nature of New Zealand trade policy like this. Helen Clark should put the national interest ahead of petty party politics."
Mr Murdoch said New Zealand's deputy ambassador to the WTO, Tony Lynch, had taken over. Mr Groser could continue as an employee after the election, though the Geneva posting would not be kept open.
Mr Groser is certain to win a top-30 place on National's list, making his election highly likely.
"Control freak. YOU SAY CONTROL FREAK WHO!"