Story: Multilateral organisations

An active member of the United Nations since it was set up in 1945, New Zealand has played a part in many multilateral organisations – both globally and regionally. Multilateral engagement has allowed New Zealand to advance its interests internationally and have a voice on important issues.

Story by Rod Alley
Main image: Helen Clark arrives at United Nations headquarters in New York, April 2009

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New Zealand is part of many multilateral organisations (agencies that involve a number of different countries). Some, such as the United Nations, are global. Others, such as the Pacific Islands Forum, have a regional focus.

Membership of multilateral agencies allows New Zealand, like other small countries, to advance its interests, have a voice internationally and show that it is a reliable, constructive global citizen.

As a British colony, New Zealand engaged with Britain and other British colonies from the time of European settlement, and became part of the Commonwealth.

War and conflict

One aim for multilateral organisations is international peace and security, and peaceful dispute resolution. After the First World War New Zealand joined the League of Nations, which was set up to prevent such conflict happening again.

The United Nations (UN) was set up in 1945 after the Second World War. New Zealand has served on the UN Security Council three times, and has worked against nuclear-weapon testing.

Trade and finance

New Zealand has worked towards eliminating trade barriers through the World Trade Organization (WTO), and has used WTO procedures to settle trade disputes – including over dairy exports to Canada and apple exports to Australia.

New Zealand joined the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in 1961 – a controversial decision, on the grounds that it might compromise the country’s economic independence. The Multilateral Agreement on Investment collapsed because of widespread public opposition.

In 1989 New Zealand was a founding member of Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), which works towards free and open trade and investment in Asia and the Pacific.


New Zealand has contributed to developing rules and norms for international conduct, including on:

  • ocean governance and rights over the seabed
  • development and the environment, including climate-change issues
  • international crimes such as genocide and war crimes.

Rights and welfare

The UN also promotes human rights and welfare – something New Zealanders have seen as very important. UN covenants New Zealand has ratified include those on:

  • outlawing slavery
  • racial discrimination
  • genocide
  • the rights of children
  • the rights of disabled people.
How to cite this page:

Rod Alley, 'Multilateral organisations', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 June 2024)

Story by Rod Alley, published 20 June 2012