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Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Agriculture a vital link

Prime Minister John Key and Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo / Alan Gibson
Prime Minister John Key and Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo / Alan Gibson

The fast-growing relationship between Burma and New Zealand should be seen as a commercial opportunity, Foreign Minister Murray McCully said yesterday shortly after the arrival of Burma's President and former general U Thein Sein.

Making use of New Zealand's agricultural expertise to help develop the poor state is likely to be high on the issues in talks today between the president and Prime Minister John Key.

President Sein Thein arrived with a large ministerial delegation - thought to be about eight ministers, including Foreign Minister U Wanna Maung Lwin.

His visit follows a visit to Burma last November by Mr Key and Foreign Minister Murray in the wake of democratic reforms which have heralded an end to the military dictatorship and decades of isolation.

Burma, which New Zealand officially calls Myanmar, is the poorest among the nations of Asean but is eyeing agriculture as a key area for economic development.

"Both sides have identified agriculture as being the value proposition that New Zealand can bring to the relationship," Mr McCully told the Herald.

It was the poorest country is the Asean group of countries and it saw commercialising agriculture as being one of the really big opportunities.

"We should also see this as a commercial opportunity for New Zealand," he said. "This is a country that is located between India and China, two huge agricultural markets."

"We should see this as an opportunity for us to contribute to their development at a critical phase but also a chance to forge some longer term commercial relationships."

Burma's Speaker, U Shwe Mann, also a former general, is expected to visit in the next few weeks, as well.

He is widely expected to stand in the next presidential elections in 2015. The wording of the present constitution bans the Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from standing alhtough there has been talk of amending it.

Asked if New Zealand would be raising the issue of further constitutional reforms in Burma with the president, Mr McCully said if it did, it would be about refomrs in general and not about Aung San Suu Kyi.

Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae was scheduled to host a state dinner for the President last night at Government House in Auckland, after a state welcome including a haka party and a 21-gun salute.

The President will meet with Fonterra representatives today and visit a nursery and farm tomorrow.

- NZ Herald

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