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PM faces first post-cab press conference

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 24/01/2017 Peter Wilson, Political Writer

Prime Minister Bill English, confident and relaxed, has just come through his first-ever post-cabinet press conference.

He faced the media in the Beehive after his new cabinet's first meeting of the year, when it dealt with the international outlook and discussed the government's priorities for 2017.

Most of the questions Mr English fielded were about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and US President Donald Trump's executive order, signed on Tuesday, to withdraw his country from the free trade agreement.

That came as no surprise, but Mr English described it as a disappointment and said he hoped the other 11 signatory countries could find a way to resurrect it without the US.

He has also taken on board Mr Trump's indication that the US will seek one-on-one trade agreements with the TPP countries, and Trade Minister Todd McClay will be sent to Washington to sound out that possibility.

Mr English is cautious about a bilateral deal, given Mr Trump's "America first" position and his statements about the need for 30-day "get out clauses" so the US could exit a deal which wasn't delivering benefits.

"We're in the very early stages... but that's one aspect we would find unattractive," Mr English said.

He was able to flourish the just-announced increase in the minimum wage, which goes up 50 cents on April 1 to $15.75 an hour.

That's well above the rate of inflation and Mr English said National had boosted the minimum wage by $3.75 an hour since it came to power in 2008.

Speculation that he would announce the election date was off the mark.

Mr English said it hadn't been finalised and he would talk to his caucus before announcing it in the next few weeks.

It's still tipped to be mid-September.

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