John Key leaves US for Canada

Prime Minister John Key leaves Washington tonight confident that New Zealand's relationship with the United States is stronger then ever.

Speaking to the US-NZ Council in Washington DC following the Nuclear Security Summit there, Mr Key said New Zealand and the US were "natural partners" due to shared values including commitment to democracy, rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights.

"And we are prepared to defend these values - together."

He said the relationship had survived "difficult times", but was continuing to go "from strength to strength".

Mr Key highlighted areas where the two countries had worked together: Afghanistan, the Global Research Alliance, South Pacific, Antarctica and now tackling nuclear terrorism.

"Our like-minded approach makes me ambitious for the relationship between our two countries."

Mr Key now heads to the Canadian capital of Ottawa for talks with his counterpart Stephen Harper, other government ministers and business leaders.

Mr Key is hoping to build relations between the two countries and it is the first visit by a New Zealand prime minister to Canada in 11 years.

In Washington, nuclear security and trade dominated the agenda with Mr Key pushing the US to embrace a free trade agreement (FTA) for the Asia Pacific region.

Negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) FTA would be "testing" but would produce "solid benefits" for the US where exports to Asia had been declining over recent years, he said.

The aim is to extend the previously negotiated P4 trade agreement between New Zealand, Brunei, Chile and Singapore to include the US, Australia, Peru and Vietnam.

Mr Key spent 40 minutes yesterday with Vice President Joe Biden who said New Zealand's relationship with the United States was at the highest point it has been in years.

In a statement following their talks, Mr Biden said New Zealand was an "important partner" on non-proliferation and climate change, and was also an important negotiating partner on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade grouping, which the United States is negotiating to join.

Mr Key is expected to return to New Zealand by Monday to chair a scheduled meeting.

- NZPA

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