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SIMON HENDERSON

@thenews.co.nz

The wide open spaces and beauty of Central Otago will be close to the heart of a local diplomat during her next overseas mission.

Renee Heal, of Cromwell, begins a four-year posting at the end of the year as New Zealand’s deputy ambassador to Spain.

Her diplomatic career began about 12 years ago at the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “pretty much straight out of university”, she said.

Her interest in diplomacy began early.

“My parents will tell you that I have been a debater my whole life.”

Mrs Heal moved with her family to Cromwell from Dunedin when she was in her teens, and still viewed it as home.

“I did a lot of my growing up here.”

As well as working at the ministry’s headquarters in Wellington, Mrs Heal spent time at postings in Belgium, Mexico and France.

Highlights included a posting to Brussels working with the European Union during the period when New Zealand was an elected member of the United Nations Security Council.

“That was a really interesting period to be a New Zealand diplomat.”

Her latest posting to Madrid in Spain would mean working with ambassador to Spain Nigel Fyfe and a “small but perfectly formed” team of about half a dozen staff.

New Zealand had a good relationship with Spain and the countries had worked together on issues including climate change, women’s rights and gender issues, she said.

“And there is a decent trade and economic relationship as well”.

Health products, IT, agritech and shipbuilding were some economic areas in which New Zealand and Spain had business connections.

“At the moment it is quite exciting because New Zealand is negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU, so that is a big priority for us.”

Living in a big city like Madrid would be a “challenge”, because of her love of the “wide open spaces” of Central Otago, but with her husband, architect Petar Kufner, they both aimed to explore the countryside of Spain.

Both were keen “foodies” and would be enjoying all that Spanish cuisine had to offer, she said.

At present, she was learning Spanish in advance of her posting.

“Getting fluent very quickly in another language is always a kind of difficult thing to do.”

One of the reasons she enjoyed her role was being able to take “New Zealand’s values to the world and share the essence of Kiwi-ness”.

Being able to demonstrate “what New Zealand is all about” to people on the other side of the world was exciting, as was being able to “advance New Zealand business objectives”.