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Trade Role For Former Actor, Socialist And Diplomat

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Grant Fleming of NZPA

Wellington, Nov 17 NZPA - Tim Groser has been an actor, a socialist, a top trade negotiator and now the second-term National MP is a National Party Cabinet minister.

The 58-year-old former diplomatic high flier was appointed trade minister in Prime Minister elect John Key's new-look Cabinet today.

That Mr Groser has been made trade minister comes as no surprise -- he was pegged for that role from the moment he announced he would stand for Parliament in 2005, while still serving as New Zealand's ambassador to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

But his candidacy provoked a vitriolic attack from then Prime Minister Helen Clark based on the fact he was still a public servant at the time.

He said her reaction was probably due to surprise at his decision to stand, but he says his entry into politics was far from sudden.

"I've always wanted to be a politician and that goes right back to when I was a teenager."

That desire pushed him into student politics where he was president of Victoria University's socialist society and a Young Labour member.

But as his views moved from the far left of the political spectrum to the centre right he put his ambitions on hold.

"I had no links whatsoever to the centre-right and the National Party and I just presumed that's politics out."

That was until a chance meeting with a senior National Party figure in 2004, who suggested he enter politics.

He puts his shift across the political spectrum down to studying economic history, "a general maturation process" and shock at visiting China during the cultural revolution in the 1970s.

During 30 years with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and its predecessors, in which time he was chief negotiator at the GATT trade talks and New Zealand's ambassador to Indonesia, he also developed a strong belief in the benefits of free trade and a free-market economy.

But Mr Groser defines himself as a social liberal.

It will also come as a surprise to most that he is legally a Muslim, technically making him New Zealand's first Muslim Cabinet minister.

But he said the designation was entirely technical and required so he could legally marry his third wife in Indonesia, whom he met while serving as New Zealand's ambassador there.

The couple have since separated, but they have a daughter and he has not revoked the status.

He has been married three times and has three children ranging in age from 10 through to 35.

Mr Groser has managed to keep a fairly low profile since entering politics, sticking to the trade area.

But he ran into a spot of bother last year when his former wife accused him of smoking marijuana inside New Zealand's Jakarta embassy while he was ambassador.

Mr Groser said although he was no "choirboy" and had smoked marijuana in the past, the specific allegations were untrue.

Although the public know him best for his foreign affairs and trade expertise, Mr Groser -- the child of professional actors -- almost embarked on an acting career after a role in the fledgling New Zealand soap opera Close to Home.

He will also hold the conservation portfolio.

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