An inspiring life — a lasting legacy
by Lockwood Smith
A funeral for a friend brings back memories. Saying goodbye to Mike Moore did just that.
One was 1999 and the Battle for Seattle. As New Zealand’s International Trade Minister, I was escorted through the tear gas, weaving our way around the barricades. It was a full ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and protesters had gathered in their thousands.
At the helm was new WTO Director General, the Rt Hon Mike Moore. He had just achieved the most important international role of any New Zealander in my lifetime.
We were trying to launch a new trade round and Mike had me chairing one of the four working groups. We failed. Not Mike’s fault, but the Battle for Seattle, as it became known, was quite an event — subsequently made into a movie that typically bore little relationship to what really went on.
The massive protests outside reflected one side of humanity — the events inside, another. In the final two days of negotiations we worked non-stop for 48 hours in what’s known as the Green Room, trying to negotiate a positive outcome. I’ve never forgotten how unhelpful the EU was, or India for that matter, and how much I missed another constructive voice such as the UK could offer. But its voice, of course, was buried under the EU.
Union leader, Ken Douglas, part of our delegation, became so worried about my well-being, that every time I emerged from the Green Room to update our team on progress, he’d bring me a fresh coffee. His thoughtfulness to someone from the opposite side of politics will stay with me forever.
Their humanity sets good leaders apart. Ken Douglas had it and Mike Moore had it in spades. His was a life devoted to finding the forgotten, to empowering the underprivileged — he did it not just in New Zealand but globally. The work of the WTO has raised more millions of people out of poverty than any other organisation in human history and Mike Moore is part of that legacy.
A kid from a working-class background, he grew up in Northland. His first job was in the meat works at Moerewa, but a crucial time spent at Dilworth School in Auckland had engendered in him a love of books. His reading broadened his mind and underpinned his extraordinary journey from humble beginnings to global leadership.
While a Labour man through and through, it was the National government under Jenny Shipley that nominated Mike for the WTO role. As Trade Minister, I was pleased to support it, but became more deeply involved when he needed to get the United States finally onside.
He’d run a typical Mike Moore campaign, living out of a shoebox in Geneva, the home of the WTO, doing the real hard yards. He’d captured a good proportion of the member countries to his cause, but needed the US — still a smidgen prickly over what they saw as the nuclear ships debacle.
My working relationship with the Clinton administration by this time was pretty good. They’d even given me the White House operator’s phone number — an amazing system where, if they trusted you, you could get put through to key cabinet members wherever they were across the country.
Towards the end of Mike’s WTO campaign, the US Trade Ambassador called me to talk about it. I backed Mike strongly. Whether it helped, I don’t know, but Mike finally got US support and the job.
While we failed in Seattle, Mike succeeded in Doha with the new Development Round launched in 2001. He also successfully brought China into the WTO. I’d been a bit involved as the first Trade Minister in the world to sign China up to the WTO.
Interestingly, for two politicians from the opposite sides of the political spectrum, we’d become great friends. When I was Speaker, Mike, then Ambassador to the United States, got me up to Washington for a couple of days to work with him around the Congress on trade issues.
Mike was never boring. He had a unique way with thoughts and words, and while he made absolute sense to us Kiwis, you’d occasionally see a cloud of confusion cross the face of some Member of Congress. Translation was sometimes required.
Life was not a rehearsal for Mike. He lived it to the full. My head was never so sore as following evenings spent with Mike and Yvonne in Geneva or Washington. Their hospitality was legendary and solving the world’s problems invariably required more than one bottle of red.
Much has recently been written about Mike’s contribution. But I think a bit has been missed, perhaps the most important of all. And it’s this.
Over the past 30 years New Zealand built a unique global trade strategy. It involved not just working with our nearest neighbours on bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs), but doing things regionally as well, such as with South East Asia via ASEAN, and more recently, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) — all the while promoting progress at the WTO.
But New Zealand also learnt the hard way that at times you need to move unilaterally — removing barriers to trade within our own system, as protectionism had been shown by the early 1980s to be so damaging to our
I don’t think that smart global trade strategy, so crucial in helping raise New Zealand from near bankruptcy in the early 80s to number one in the world on the Global Prosperity Index in 2016, would have lasted through successive changes of government had Mike Moore not laid the foundations for a bipartisan approach to trade liberalisation here in New Zealand when he was himself Trade Minister in the 1980s.
In my experience, few other countries in the world have seen the left and right of politics so consistently aligned in this critically important policy area.
Traditionally, the political left has been less enamoured with trade liberalisation — fearing for local jobs. But Mike’s incisive mind saw it differently, as ultimately creating more jobs. He was able to convince enough of his colleagues of his vision for a better place for all. We owe it to Mike to continue his legacy of cross-party support for trade.