The leaders of Papua New Guinea and New Zealand have discussed a refreshed partnership that could boost the number of places for short-term RSE horticultural workers coming to Aotearoa.

Christopher Luxon had a stopover in Papua New Guinea while en route to Japan with a business delegation, and met with PNG Prime Minister James Marape.

The two discussed regional issues, a new partnership agreement between the countries expected to be signed before September, and the expansion of the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) worker programme.

The RSE programme allows workers from nine participating Pacific countries – Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands and Nauru – to fill short-term roles in New Zealand’s horticulture industry.

Many work in orchards and vinyards around the country; including in Marlborough, the Bay of Plenty and Marlborough.

The workers from PNG were well-respected here, Luxon said.

“We personally think we need to double the amount of RSE workers that we have in New Zealand, from 19,000 up to about 38,000….over a period of time.

“So that it’s actually digestible to the countries where those workers are coming from, but also to make sure we’ve got the right accommodation in place and all the investments have happened in those horticultural farms.

“That’s something that we’ll consider through the statement of partnership, with the view of how does that help PNG…so that when those workers go to New Zealand they learn a set of skills that they can advance in New Zealand but also ultimately bring back here to Papua New Guinea.”

Marape said he hoped the workers would be able to earn qualifications while in New Zealand.

New Zealand and PNG both shared ambitions to increase their exports, Luxon said, and should work together on that more.

New Zealand’s assistance after a massive landslide in PNG’s Enga province had been very welcome, Marape said.

The death toll is at least 670 people, according to PNG authorities and thousands of villagers affected or left without homes.

Defence forces from New Zealand were sent to distribute supplies in the remote area, and funds were now being funnelled through non-government organisations, Luxon said.

“We’re open to helping any way we can. Initially, it was about getting supplies into the region using some of our defence assets … we did talk about geotech where there’s expertise we can bring.

“It’s a pretty tragic set of events – it’s in a very remote part of the country, it’s difficult to access, and we stand ready to help.”

Luxon’s visit was warmly welcomed, Marape said.

“New Zealand has a senior presence in our part of Planet Earth.
“[It] has always made quality interventions in PNG matters over the last 49 years we’ve been independent; they’ve always had an active presence in our country.

“The future is where we will not take each other for granted but we consolidate on our past … and create a shared future that is mutually beneficial for both nations.”

Luxon also underlined the value of the relationship New Zealand holds with PNG.

“Papua New Guinea is such a critical relationship to us. It’s a relationship that matters,” he said.

“We want to continue to move forward and…deepen our partnership, that’s why we’re hopeful…we’ll be able to sign an enhanced statement of partnership, a renewed statement about how our countries are going to work together.”

The pair planned to hold further discussions at the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in Tonga, from August 26 to 30.

Luxon had also been invited to Papua New Guinea for the country’s 50th anniversary of independence in September next year.