China forum 'NZ Inc at its best' - Pat English

By Ben Chapman-Smith

New Zealand's relationship with China needs to deepen beyond just trade, says Pat English. Photo / AP
New Zealand's relationship with China needs to deepen beyond just trade, says Pat English. Photo / AP

New Zealand and Chinese leaders are gearing up for one of their most significant gatherings since the Free Trade Agreement was signed five years ago.

Taking place in Beijing next month, the first ever New Zealand China Partnership Forum will bring together key figures from a wide range of sectors in each country.

Alongside Prime Minister John Key will be the likes of Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings, University of Waikato vice chancellor Roy Crawford and Ngati Kahungunu chair Ngahiwi Tomoana.

The event is being co-hosted by the New Zealand China Council (NZCC) and the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges.

It comes after last year's celebration of 40 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries and coincides with the five-year anniversary of the signing of FTA in 2008.

Pat English, newly-appointed executive director of the NZCC, said the forum was designed to strengthen relations between the two countries and was "New Zealand Inc at its best".

"Getting a seat at the table in China is very difficult but that's exactly what this forum gives our New Zealand leaders," English said.

"Some of China's largest companies are going to be represented."

English said the April 12 forum was about far more than just trade and investment. Both countries would be represented by leaders from the government, tourism, business, science, culture and education sectors.

"This is very senior and there's significant representation of New Zealand's relationship with China."

The fact that the forum was being held at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse was a massive compliment to New Zealand, he said.

"This is where Chinese leadership traditionally hold their major events. It is a huge endorsement by China to have it held there."

The forum would be just as attractive to Chinese leaders as their kiwi counterparts, he said. For many of them, it would be their first opportunity to meet newly appointed Chinese government ministers.

English said each country would be represented by about 100 leaders and it would be "standing room only".

Since the Free Trade Agreement was signed in 2008, New Zealand exports to China have more than tripled, and last year totalled $6.9 billion.

New Zealand had gained "a lot of momentum" since the signing and the challenge now was for the country to continue building on that foundation, something this forum would play a big part in.

The NZCC was launched by John Key in February last year as part of the New Zealand Inc China Strategy.

Chaired by Sir Don McKinnon, its purpose is to build New Zealand's relationship with China by drawing together key leaders engaged with China from both the public and private sector.

"This is a diverse group of people who have a common thread that New Zealand needs to capitalise on its existing relationship with China," English said.

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