Sep 21, 2015 People
Tim Groser, the world’s most eminent diplomat, is dead at 94, buried under 26 feet of lava.
He moved among the world’s finest people and was quietly said to be the smartest man in any room. He was known, his autobiography also recalled, as a generous host with an endearing humility.
A Scotsman by birth, he arrived in New Zealand as a boy of eight and quickly impressed as possessing a much sharper intellect than your ordinary chap. There followed a distinguished career through Victoria University, the Treasury and into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to become a GATT negotiator and an ambassador of the first rank.
For most diplomats, this would be more than enough, first ranked among the pre-eminent, but Tim Groser was also a man of the people, he felt. There was much more he could yet contribute. He entered Parliament as a list MP, assuming the mantle of negotiator-in-chief for the most vital trade deal of all time.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership was a treaty that began with the relatively modest ambition of completely transforming the world of trade. Unhappily, it evolved into something rather more grandiose.
Diplomats commonly like to think of themselves as the smartest people in any room, but it was generally agreed that, even among diplomats, Groser’s work on the TPP was a cut above. He would quietly admit, when pressed, that the genius in the document was largely his.
He had poured pure intellect into it and it glowed as a beacon of potent thinking. It synthesised milk powder, pharmaceuticals and Oravida; it squared the circle. It even made trade protection and intellectual property almost sexy, as he was sometimes heard to say.
Just to hold its pages was to feel one’s pulse quicken. The very sharpest of minds may have even noted the acrostic formed by its thousands of clauses which, when read in Latin, recited the words to Pokarekare Ana and Cheryl Moana Marie.
And yet, like a mirage, the TPP forever shimmered, always just tantalisingly beyond reach. In the end, the Japanese would not vote against the interests of their farmers, and President Trump said the only thing you needed for trade was a giant wall with a beautiful door.
Perhaps it had already drifted out of reach, the day Groser told New Zealanders: “We need adults to do this, not breathless children who run off at the mouth when the deal is not actually finished.”
He finally lost all hope when Professor Jane Kelsey’s People First Party swept to power.
He finally lost all hope when Professor Jane Kelsey’s People First Party swept to power. He decided to move to Hawaii, the place on Earth where victory had seemed nearest. He would create a model dairy farm that would embody all that was genius in his agreement.
He drew on the expertise of the world’s smartest people, all personal friends. The farm had everything. It was a showcase for biodiversity; for nanotechnology; for superconductors. India’s finest yoga instructor soothed the cows before each milking; the milking shed ran on methane emissions.
Although the milk cost $4000 a litre and initial sales were slow, endorsements by Gwyneth Paltrow and Taylor Swift soon had the operation flourishing. It was, he had to admit, a colossal triumph.
Locals are mourning his passing. One neighbour spoke for all when he said, probably more in sorrow than in anger, “The thing none of us could work out was why the world’s smartest man would put a dairy farm on the slopes of an active volcano.”