NZ assured on Pacific free trade deal

New Zealand has secured a commitment from other countries negotiating a Pacific-wide free-trade deal that the final pact will be "high-standard".

The assurance is included in a communique issued by the nine nations in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) after a meeting on the fringes of the weekend's Apec leaders summit.

The group, which includes New Zealand and the United States, is reaching what Prime Minister John Key is calling the "heavy lifting" stage of negotiations.

A critical round of talks is scheduled for Auckland next month.

New Zealand has been worried that Japan's interest in joining TPP could see other members watering down the free-trade principles to get the world's third biggest economy on board.

As it is, Japan would have 10 years under TPP within which to phase out its prohibitive tariffs on food imports.

Mr Key said the TPP now had the momentum lacking in other proposals for removing obstacles to free trade in the Asia-Pacific region.

United States President Barack Obama was among leaders at yesterday's meeting in Yokohama, which has been hosting Apec.

Japan attended as "host observer" - a status designed to demonstrate its interest in joining the TPP while maintaining distance to avoid angering Japan's agricultural lobby, which will be hard-hit by tariff cuts and greater competition from countries such as New Zealand.

Meanwhile, New Zealand has become the first country to start negotiating a free-trade deal with Russia. The decision to begin negotiations was finalised on Saturday after a one-to-one meeting between Mr Key and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the summit.

Trade Negotiations Minister Tim Groser would not put a figure on the potential gains for exporters, saying any predictions would speculative. However, Russia is seen as an increasingly well-off society with growing demand for consumer goods. It imports large quantities of food.

Mr Groser said the deal was all about "future-proofing" New Zealand exports, which are worth about $180 million.

The talks on a free trade deal follow New Zealand's securing a similar agreement with China.

- NZ Herald

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