Fran O'Sullivan: Key woos China

PM's aim is for the two countries to create food supply chains, writes Fran O'Sullivan

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key arrives in Beijing, China. Photo / Kate Chapman
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key arrives in Beijing, China. Photo / Kate Chapman

John Key is seriously wooing China as he seeks to transform the bilateral trade relationship into an economic partnership.

At the prestigious Boao Forum on Hainan Island yesterday he was expected to pay China a serious tribute by affirming it would be a "global super-power".

Key conceded to the Herald that China has "probably" already achieved that status. But in a political relationship which has been characterised by a series of "firsts", being at the forefront of Western leaders to acknowledge China's evolving status will not go unnoticed - particularly by President Xi Jinping, who was to host Key and 12 other political leaders who each had a mere six minutes to achieve cut-through in their own addresses to the opening plenary session.

Like other leaders Key planned to acknowledge Xi's recent ascension to the presidency. But his main game was to position New Zealand as a valuable partner to China in developing global supply chains to feed its people. "It makes sense to team up with Chinese capital and use other countries' land masses to produce food we can't produce in New Zealand," Key says.

New Zealand has limited arable land left for developing new farms. If the nation's agricultural businesses want to expand, they should take their expertise overseas and form partnerships in countries with bigger land masses.

Key's message will also be directed at the senior investors who turn up at Boao. Many of them represent major Chinese banks.

He was expected to rub shoulders with global business chiefs like Bill Gates and possibly financier George Soros, who were among those invited to the three-day soiree.

Trade and economic ties will dominate Key's agenda in China this week.

But the tensions with North Korea, New Zealand's bid for non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council, the Global Research Alliance on Greenhouse Emissions, and Trade Minister Tim Groser's bid to be WTO director-general, were also topics expected to be raised.

Visa requirements could be relaxed

Greater visa access for Kiwi business travellers and more access to the China market through expanded landing rights will on the table during the Prime Minister's bilateral talks in Beijing this week. John Key signalled a high expectation that the current multi-entry business visa, which expires after 12 months, will be expanded.

Major tourism players have also been lobbying for New Zealand to relax its visa requirements for reputable Chinese business travellers and tourists to capitalise on surging visitor numbers.

Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon says his airline has daily services into Shanghai and Tokyo. "We want to connect with Dragon Air into the southern Chinese cities and be able to pull people out of there to Hong Kong. But their air services agreements don't allow that and they need some negotiation." But Air New Zealand is up against China Southern, which not only flies daily to Auckland but can draw on its huge Chinese domestic network.

- NZ Herald

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Head of Business for NZME

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

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