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New Zealand is better-placed than other English-speaking nations to help Japan’s goal of internationalizing its citizens, according to Ambassador Phillip Gibson.

New Zealand Ambassador Phillip Gibson

“We’ve got good educational standards, good educational institutions and frankly, we’re much, much more competitive than other countries” in this field, he said in a recent interview.

“It’s a fraction of the cost of an education in the United States to send your kids to university in New Zealand. We’re similarly much cheaper than the United Kingdom. We’re similarly much cheaper than Australia.”

With Wellington placing greater emphasis on this sort of “soft trade,” encompassing such areas as education and tourism, New Zealand has entered a new era in its trade relationship with its Pacific Rim neighbor.

The New Zealand economy relies on the export of agricultural products and Japan is its third-largest trading partner. But after spending years trying to break through the protective walls that Tokyo has put up to limit outside access to its agriculture markets, progress has not been to the extent that New Zealand would like.

Gibson, however, said that the two nations have essentially agreed to address the bilateral trading relationship on a new level.

“This means that those outstanding (trade) issues are there on the table, but at the same time we explore new areas where there are not the same sort of historical impediments,” said Gibson, who has been Wellington’s top envoy to Japan for 18 months.

Over the past 30 years, New Zealand has repositioned itself as a member of the Asian economic community as its traditional trading links with Europe, particularly Britain, have worn out. The resume of the 51-year-old career diplomat shows he is a product of that effort, having previously been posted in Manila and worked for four years as the ambassador to Thailand.

As the former chief of New Zealand’s Asia 2000 Foundation, Gibson also recognizes the importance of fostering good relations at the grassroots level when pursuing broader trade ties with Japan.

The foundation works to build New Zealanders’ knowledge and understanding of Asia, partly through cultural and educational exchanges.

“One of the things I learned in Asia 2000 was the tremendous importance of people-to-people links, community-to-community links, artistic and cultural exchanges. And I think these aspects are very special in the Japan-New Zealand relationship.

“Indeed, outside let’s say Australia and perhaps the United Kingdom and arguably the United States, I think the people-to-people links we have with Japan are stronger than with any other country.”

As an indication of this, Gibson pointed out that, after English, more New Zealanders study Japanese than any other language.

And in terms of internationalizing by example, Gibson has succeeded. His wife is a Thailand-born New Zealander and one of his two young sons, who is already fluent in Thai, is now studying Japanese.

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