The world is facing some serious challenges, and for small, open economies like New Zealand's it is vital governments remain open to international trade and investment, and to new ideas.

That was the strong message delivered last week by our prime minister, John Key, to the 71st General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. He talked about those serious challenges and, in particular, the devastating humanitarian crisis that has arisen out of the war in Syria. He also expressed concern about borders closing to people, products and investment, which has left many nation states turning inwards and allowed the politics of fear and extremism to gain momentum.

Mr Key put New Zealand front and centre, describing us as a proudly independent, multicultural trading nation in the Asia-Pacific. We are most certainly a nation for whom the international system matters and he seized the opportunity to reinforce the relevance and standing of the United Nations, and, in particular, the Security Council, in response to today's challenges.

Mr Key acknowledged that parts of the UN system are working, for example there have been significant steps forward on development, climate, financing, humanitarian and disaster risk reduction. But he also emphasised the fact that sustainable economic development is a key driver of global growth, prosperity and stability - and it requires a fair, rules-based trading system that is more open to trade, and the removal of trade barriers.

Last year, New Zealand welcomed an agreement by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to eliminate agricultural export subsidies. It's vital for development, and it will make a real difference for our rural communities. It also represents the first legally binding international trade outcome in agriculture since 1994.

In fact, the types of challenges the UN faces today are similar to those that have hindered more progress in the WTO in recent years. That's why Mr Key reiterated New Zealand's belief that the WTO needs to do more to set global trade rules.

In the Asia Pacific region, closer economic integration through trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will help bring us together. They will make our region and people better off by setting the conditions for more open and transparent trade.

At the same time a more prosperous and integrated region will also be a more secure one. We must guard against creeping protectionism. We can't turn inwards and allow fear or narrow domestic interests to turn us away from an open global trading systema system that has lifted millions out of poverty, and has the potential to do so much more.

Countries that close their borders can't do business.

Mr Key's recent visit to the UN, his chairing of the meeting on issues relating to the crisis in Syria and his promotion of Helen Clark for the roll of UN Secretary General have certainly put the focus firmly on our little country at the bottom of the earth.

We should be extremely proud of the fact that our current and our former prime ministers can walk the world stage together with a very real and worthwhile presence. It is worth noting that together these two prime ministers have led New Zealand for 18 of our 162 years as an independent democracy.

Never before in our history have we been able to create such waves - it opens doors for us all.

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