PARIS: New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday that she hoped to begin talks “in the coming months” on forging a free-trade agreement with the European Union, the country’s biggest trading partner after Australia.
“I believe an EU-New Zealand FTA presents an opportunity to conclude an agreement that is a model for progressive and inclusive trade,” Ardern said after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.
New Zealand mainly exports agriculture products to the bloc, which said in October that it would fast-track the trade talks by bypassing a risky national ratification process.
Both Ardern and Macron said the talks would take into account environmental and social concerns while being “mutually beneficial”.
“Some of the concerns being raised domestically in New Zealand will be similar to the ones raised in France,” Ardern said in reference to potential resistance from French and European farmers.
“Our goal is a model that will demonstrate to the public that we want to deliver free-trade agreements that can benefit and be prosperous for both our citizens.”
Macron agreed that “Future trade accords ... must be coherent with our political engagements and will be coherent with the social model we defend in Europe, our goal of acceptable social standards and responsibilities, and environmental commitments”.
“What our farmers won’t understand is that we negotiate with nations who don’t have the same health or environmental standards,” he said.
“I believe that what we are setting out with New Zealand is the right response to this, and I think this accord can be reached,” he said.
Trade between New Zealand and the EU reached 8.1 billion euros (Dh36.7 billion; $10 billion) in 2016, with European nations mainly exporting manufactured goods.
The two sides already have a partnership agreement covering several economic and trade areas, including mutual recognition of some regulatory requirements, including those on live animals and animal products.
Ardern’s visit to France, her first port of call in Europe as New Zealand’s leader, comes as Britain is hosting a summit of the 53 Commonwealth members where trade will be high on the agenda.
London is hoping to bolster its economic ties with its historic partners ahead of Britain’s exit from the EU next year, a move that is widely expected to weigh on trade with the bloc.