Philippines, New Zealand ink 3 agreements: 1 year Visa, Maritime Defense & Geo Energy

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and Benigno Aquino III, John Key AP PHOTO

Philippines, New Zealand ink 3 bilateral pacts

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (via PLDT)—President Benigno Aquino III capped his two-day state visit to this southernmost Pacific country Tuesday by witnessing the signing of three bilateral agreements meant to further strengthen diplomatic relations between Manila and Wellington.

The signing followed a bilateral meeting between Aquino and Prime Minister John Key, both held at the Parliament Building here.

The accords deal with a reciprocal working holiday scheme, defense cooperation, and geothermal energy cooperation.

The geothermal and defense cooperation is meant to jumpstart talks on these areas, leading to concrete agreements done the road, while the arrangement on working holiday scheme seems to be a done deal.

The President and the Prime Minister claimed that the reciprocal arrangement would open up both countries to people-to-people exchanges as a way to fix the very low awareness among Filipinos and Kiwis of each other's culture, history and heritage as Pacific nations.

According to the President, there are only 36,640 Filipinos in New Zealand, which represent one percent of the 4.4 million population.

One-year temporary visa

The holiday scheme, signed by Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully, is the first working holiday arrangement negotiated by the Philippines.

It complements the people-to-people exchanges between two nations, providing the young people (aged 18-30) temporary entry visas in each direction for a year.

Qualified participants are limited to a maximum of three months' work with one employer, or enroll in training or study courses for not more than three months.

However, they can spend up to a year either in New Zealand or the Philippines, said Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang, explaining to reporters the ramifications of the grant of such a visa to either of the two nationalities.

Both foreign affairs departments will have to work out some other issues, but it was announced here that the first visas under the scheme would be issued in 2013.

Asked at a press conference about the jobs that Filipinos and New Zealanders could apply for under the holiday scheme, Aquino said that "actually (it) will be related to areas where, for instance, the geothermal field. I'm told that we have to send most of our experts here or students who would want to become experts in the field to live and perhaps to get an initial college degree for it. The idea more is in the scheme of having experienced the different culture and environment … hopefully both sides will be able to imbibe the positive attributes to both our cultures and our peoples."

He said the main concept behind the working holiday scheme was that "one should get to know each other better to do discover how similar we are other than different which enhances the cooperation we all have to demonstrate in the growing interconnectivity and similarity of problems we are forced to confront."

Key, for his part, was excited about the scheme, saying: "It's asset to working with all opportunities in the Philippines and vice versa. It's pretty similar to what we signed in Indonesia."

Framework for talks

The Memorandum of Agreement on Defense Cooperation, signed by Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and McCully, provides a formal framework for dialogue and cooperation on defense issues, said Carandang.

This includes meeting of both countries' senior officials and military representatives, education and capacity-building, training activities and exercises, information exchanges, and multilateral cooperation.

Aquino cited a "shared history" of defense links between the Philippines and New Zealand, dating back from World War II, the Cold War, and even serving as peacekeeping forces in volatile parts of the world such as Timor Leste.

The arrangement on geothermal energy cooperation, signed by McCully and Del Rosario, provides a government-to-government framework to support geothermal development between the two countries.

The President noted that the Philippines was one of the two largest producers of geothermal power, but it was New Zealand that had provided helped the Philippines harness this alternative power source in the 1970s.

Early in the day, two private companies—the Philippine Energy Development Corp. (EDC) and New Zealand's GNS Science—signed a separate business deal in the presence of Aquino in Auckland, his first stop in this state visit that took him to Wellington later in the day.

GNS will provide technical services to EDC, one of the two largest geothermal producers in the world.

New Zealand's Alliance Select Foods International, Inc.

Alliance Select Foods International Inc., based in the Philippines, also formalized in Auckland its $2.18-million share purchase agreement to acquire 80 percent of Akaroa Salmon NZ Ltd., a pioneer in salmon farming in New Zealand.

The New Zealand-based salmon marine farmer and processor of fresh and smoked salmon.

Maori welcome

Prior to the bilateral meeting with Key, the President met Governor General Jerry Mateparae and his spouse, Lady Janine, in an elaborate state ceremony, reception and bilateral talks at the nearby Government House.

The President and his lean entourage of Cabinet members and business group were treated to a traditional "powhiri" (welcome) rites by the Maori people, New Zealand's indigenous natives, at the spacious lawn of the Government House.

The formal ceremony entailed "wero" (challenge), an ancient Maori warrior tradition used to determine whether visitors came in peace or with hostile intent.

Armed with a traditional weapon, three warriors led over two dozens of chanting Maoris, performing an intimidating series of fight movements as they advanced towards Aquino.

The carefully choreographed movements ended with the President picking up the "taiaha" (dart), and the Maori warrior-leader slapping his thigh to signal that Aquino and his party could enter the area.

The warriors and their spouses then escorted the presidential entourage to the center lawn, where Aquino was welcomed by Mateparae and his lady.

A 21-gun salute was rendered in honor of Aquino, as the Philippine national anthem was being played.

A state dinner was hosted by the governor general at the Government House before Aquino and his entourage flew to Canberra, Australia, late Tuesday for the second leg of his two-nation state visit.

Aquino's state visit to New Zealand, his first since becoming President in 2010, aims to strengthen bilateral relations between the Philippines and New Zealand which have seen modest gains in the areas of trade, agriculture, renewable energy and tourism since the inception of formal diplomatic relations in 1966.

The Philippines is New Zealand's 13th largest export market, but is also the latter's third largest market for dairy products after China and the US.

Inquirer Global Nation

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