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Canada talks climate, COVID-19, Indigenous relations in meetings with New Zealand Foreign Minister

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New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta in Ottawa on Nov. 25. Ms. Mahuta is the first Indigenous woman to serve as New Zealand’s Foreign Minister.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Climate change, the prolonged presence of COVID-19 and Indigenous relations were key aspects of discussions between Canadian cabinet ministers and New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta during her first trip abroad since the pandemic began.

Ms. Mahuta, who was appointed to her portfolio a year ago, met with five ministers during her Canadian visit, which wrapped on Thursday.

The visit took place at a time when New Zealand continues to be considered a like-minded partner for Canada on a broad range of matters, such as security and defence, international trade, counterterrorism, human rights and Indigenous issues.

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Global Affairs Canada says the two countries work together in the United Nations, Commonwealth, Five Eyes intelligence alliance, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, who met with Ms. Mahuta during her visit, said Thursday on Twitter that he’s had a number of conversations with the minister and that each one has been meaningful to him and pushed him to reflect on his work from a different angle.

Ms. Mahuta, the first Indigenous woman to serve as New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, also spoke with Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu, International Trade Minister Mary Ng, International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly during two days of meetings in Ottawa.

Ms. Mahuta, who sat down with The Globe and Mail on Thursday, said she had a “warm” meeting with Ms. Joly and noted commonalities between the two countries, such as the importance of inclusion of Indigenous peoples. The bilateral relationship with New Zealand and Canada is long-standing, she added.

Global Affairs said Wednesday in a statement that Ms. Mahuta and Ms. Joly’s first meeting focused on issues including the environment and the pandemic recovery. They also exchanged views on global and regional security challenges related to countries such as Afghanistan, Myanmar, Ukraine and Ethiopia, the statement said.

On Afghanistan, Ms. Mahuta told The Globe that New Zealand had to confront similar challenges to other countries during the emergency evacuation period.

After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August, security gravely worsened on the ground as many tried to leave the country amid fear for their lives. The Canadian government faced criticism from opposition parties, former soldiers and advocates over the speed with which it helped individuals leave the country.

Ms. Mahuta said Thursday that New Zealand officials worked with countries neighbouring Afghanistan to help process those who are eligible to come to their country while she noted continuing concerns, including regarding women and children.

On the situation in China, Ms. Mahuta said New Zealand remains concerned about reports on the treatment of the Uyghur people.

UN rights experts and activists have accused China of using tactics such as mass detainment, torture, forced labour and sterilizations on Uyghur Muslims in its Xinjiang region. Beijing denies this and says its actions in the region are necessary to counter extremism.

Ms. Mahuta said a parliamentary motion in New Zealand did not classify the Uyghur situation as a genocide but acknowledged its severity.

The minister said there is a legal threshold that must be met in order to classify an event as a genocide and underscored the importance of upholding this approach based on an independent evaluation and investigation. She also said this is why New Zealand has called for “unfettered access” to China’s Xinjiang region.

In February, Canada’s Parliament declared China’s treatment of Uyghurs to be a genocide through a motion that passed. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of his cabinet abstained from the vote. Mr. Trudeau has not personally used the term genocide to describe what is happening to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and has said further examination must be completed.

New Zealand maintains a free-trade agreement with China, established in 2008. It was considered a global first for any developed country. Ms. Mahuta said it was seen as a “dynamic opportunity” for the country given the market afforded by China. It has since been upgraded and the relationship has “matured,” she added.

“It is a relationship that is respectful, predicable and consistent,” she said, adding that when the two countries cannot agree, such as on human rights, there is conformity in how issues are raised. “It’s really important for New Zealand to be well understood in terms of the relationship with China.”

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