PHL Ambassador participates in the diplomatic study tour of ChristChurch and Queenstown in New Zealand
As part of the Philippine Embassy’s economic and public diplomacy priorities in New Zealand, Ambassador Virginia H.Benavidez, accompanied by her spouse, Engr. Pio J. Benavidez joined the Heads of Mission (HOMs) resident in Wellington and those based in Canberra and their spouses for a Diplomatic Study Tour of Christchurch and Queenstown led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) on 2-4 October 2013. It provided an excellent opportunity for the Ambassadors and High Commissioners and their spouses to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of Canterbury’s economic recovery in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, get to know and engage more with the business community, local government officials and Maori “iwi” (tribe leaders) and see and learn first-hand the iconic and innovative tourism programmes, agriculture, Christchurch rebuild and reconstruction and various export and economic activities in the regions visited.
On 2 October 2013, an official cultural welcome by the Maori local tribe, “Ngai Tahu” at Rehua Marae in Christchurch where a “Powhiri”, a uniquely New Zealand way of greetings and traditional speeches were made. Ngai Tahu is the fourth largest tribe with the biggest boundary in New Zealand. As each Head of Mission was asked to speak, Ambassador Benavidez thanked the tribe’s elders and members for the warm and meaningful welcome, highlighted the vital roles and contributions of Filipinos in the reconstruction and rebuild of Christchurch and other sectors, reiterated the importance of people-to-people ties between the Philippines and New Zealand and ended her remarks with a Maori saying “Haurni e, hui e, taiki, e” (We meet, we mingle, we are one). Presentations were made on the history of Ngai Tahu, tribal membership now numbering 51, 241, the setting up of the Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, the tribal council established in 1996, its enduring values of family, looking after its people, expertise, stewardship, appropriate action and leadership, the tribal vision for the future and tribal development journey through commercialism and increases in its asset base.
The HOMs and spouses called on Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker who gave an overview of the positive developments and abounding opportunities for economic growth with NZ$40 billion allotted for the Christchurch rebuild and reconstruction. He pointed out that Christchurch is expected to contribute 16% to the country’s GDP and the current development projects in various key sectors and leading technologies, the steady increase of skilled workers from nations and the active participation of the Ngai Tahu tribe will further spur economic growth. From the windows of his room, Mayor Parker showed the Heads of Mission the changing vista of Christchurch currently undergoing massive deconstruction following the deadly earthquake in February 2011 and the significant changes that are expected to be made in the subsequent reconstruction and rebuild.
A meeting was held with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) chaired by CEO Rodger Sutton who presented an overview of the recovery and rebuild of Greater Christchurch. Government, private sector, communities and stakeholders have provided lessons and must continue to work together. Government support for investment and business and investment opportunities in the rebuild and reconstruction were likewise highlighted. Ambassador Benavidez spoke in behalf of the Heads of Mission and thanked Mr. Sutton and CERA and the MFAT officials for the highly informative briefing on the priorities and projects to transform Christchurch into one of the most modern and efficient cities in New Zealand and the region. She highlighted the fact that the Filipinos who are now the most preferred and appreciated skilled workers will continue to have vital roles and crucial contributions to the rebuild and reconstruction of Christchurch. Ambassador Benavidez also pointed out that reports on the recent economic growth of New Zealand indicated that this has been primarily driven by the economic activities in Christchurch. The visit of the Heads of Mission has certainly been a valuable opportunity to learn more about the possible linkages and joint venture arrangements that companies from the Philippines and other countries can undertake through CERA’s pathway.
The luncheon meeting and interaction started with a briefing by Mr. Peter Townsend, CEO of the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce (CECC) who shared with the HOMs the scale of Christchurch’s rebuild as 60% of total damages are in the housing sector, the infrastructure repairs to be completed and the on-going deconstruction of buildings. A great part of the NZ$40 billion budget for the Christchurch rebuild will come from insurance, the most extensive in the world on a per capita basis for insurance purposes. There is an increasing in flow of people from the United Kingdom, the Philippines and other countries and the Christchurch economy has held remarkably well, contributing 6.6% to total GDP. Once the rebuild and reconstruction get underway, Christchurch city is well poised to be one of New Zealand’s biggest economic development programme.
Mr. Steven Perdia, Manager of the Canterbury Development Corporation (CDC) informed the HOMS about the roles and functions of CDC in processing building consents, monitoring the entire development programme and handling the big priority projects and the short-term, medium-term and long-term focus that will make Christchurch as New Zealand’s newest and most modern city, a magnet for businesses and population growth.
The HOMs and spouses likewise listened to and engaged with Dr. Ed Butler, Manager Antartica Programme Planning, Antartic NZ and Mr. Tim Hunter, CEO, Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism. They attended a Reception hosted by His Excellency Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae who warmly welcomed and interacted with the Heads of Mission. He spoke about the positive developments in Christchurch and encouraged the Heads of Mission to continue engaging with the relevant agencies for opportunities and partnership in the rebuild and reconstruction of Christchurch. Ambassador Benavidez thanked the Governor-General for his gracious hospitality and for New Zealand’s acknowledgement and appreciation for the continuing contributions of Filipino skilled manpower in the rebuild and reconstruction of Christchurch.
Ambassador Benavidez and Engr. Pio J. Benavidez attended the Champion Canterbury Business Awards together with the other Heads of Mission and spouses and MFAT officials in the evening at CBS arena. The Champion Canterbury Business Awards are given to recognise the excellence, passion and success of businesses in the Canterbury region. As the biggest Awards Ceremony in New Zealand, it provided good opportunities to meet and network with Canterbury’s leading businessmen and representatives in the private sector.
On 3 October 2013, the HOMS, spouses and MFAT officials visited the Geraldine Township famous for its cheese maker, chocolatier and the internationally recognised Barker's fruit products, Lake Pukaiki which is the largest of three roughly parallel alpine lakes running north-south along the northern edge of the Mackenzie Basin on New Zealand's South Island and is now part of the Waitaki hydroelectric scheme, the Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon hatchery and salmon farms and Cromwell which was chosen to be the administrative centre for the construction of five hydro-power dams.
On 4 October 2013, the HOMs, spouses and MFAT officials called on Queenstown Mayor Her Worship Vanessa van Uden who welcomed the Heads of Mission and spouses and the MFAT officials and presented an overview on the priorities and developments in Queenstown, considered as the Crown Jewel of New Zealand tourism, met Mr. Graham Budd, CEO, Destination Queenstown who gave a history of Queenstown positioning itself as a premier tourism destination and listened to the presentation of Mr. Harvey Bourne, Head of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Queenstown Resort College with a strong advisory board and industry focused curriculum and programmes and with enrollment composed of 80% domestic students and 20% international students. They were also given an informative tour of the facilities of the College. The Heads of Mission and spouses and MFAT officials proceeded to the K-Jet Boat Ride and to AJ Hacket Bungee to enable them to experience Queenstown’s iconic adventure tourism attractions. A Working Lunch was held at the Amisfield Winery where the Heads of Mission met and interacted with Ms. Ann Lockhart, CEO, Queenstown Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Scott Peterson, CEO, Queenstown airport, Mr. Jeff Staniland, CEO, Skyline Enterprises and other representatives from the private sector in Queenstown.
At the end of the Diplomatic Study Tour, the HOMS and spouses reiterated their deep gratitude to MFAT officials led by its Chief of Protocol Caroline Bilkey and her Team for a highly educational, productive and meaningful visit to the key cities of Christchurch and Queenstown and for their gracious hospitality, warm reception and excellent arrangements for the entire diplomatic Study Tour. The Study Tour of Heads of Mission to Christchurch and Queenstown has certainly opened up valuable opportunities for collaboration and important areas of cooperation as well as provided first-hand knowledge about the strengths and attractions of iconic places and destinations and vital developments in the regions in the South Island.