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MFAT taskforce to monitor US policy

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 8/02/2017

The Minstry of Foreign Affairs has set up a 24-hour task force to oversee the transition of US President Donald Trump and feed back information in real time on policies that could affect New Zealanders.

It comes after ministry boss Brook Barrington was hauled into a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully to answer questions on why it took days to confirm New Zealand dual citizens would not be barred from entering the US as part of Mr Trump's immigration policy changes.

Mr Barrington says he was unhappy he hadn't provided enough resources.

"I made it clear to the minister that I think we fell behind the curve on that," he said after facing the ministry's annual review by the Foreign Affairs and Trade select committee.

"I didn't set up the structures early enough to ensure that we were able to provide the government with exactly that 24/7 real time advice."

The Labour Party supports the formation of a task force.

"I think it's very appropriate... and I think it reflects on the fact that they were found wanting in respect of the first challenge," said foreign affairs spokesman David Parker.

"It's a time of huge uncertainty in the world, born of recent events in the USA and to a lesser extent Brexit, and I think it's important that MFAT is ready to react quickly."

Half a dozen staff from MFAT's America's division in Wellington will work with staff in Washington on the task force, which will likely be in operation for several months.

"This is not (business as usual) at the moment and I think we need to be running this as a 24/7 operation which means being able to give the government advice in real time," Mr Barrington said.

He said 1220 staff had to be appointed to roles within the new US administration, something that he understood took former president Barack Obama five or six months to do so.

"I'll keep (the task force) in place for as long as it's needed," he said.

Mr Barrington said the task force was not solely a response to Mr Trump's election, but is the way a modern foreign ministry should operate these days.

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