Key heads to China for free trade agreement 'upgrade' negotiations

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key meets with Chinese Premier President Xi Jinping at the Boao Forum in China in 2013. Photo / File
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key meets with Chinese Premier President Xi Jinping at the Boao Forum in China in 2013. Photo / File

Prime Minister John Key is to visit China this month to discuss upgrading the free trade agreement between the two countries that was signed almost eight years ago.

Key will meet President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing but will also visit Xi'an and Shanghai. He said the FTA had been a success for both parties - "two-way trade between New Zealand and China has more than doubled, reaching almost $19 billion. An FTA upgrade would allow us to modernise the agreement and ensure it continues to drive our relationship forward."

Last month Key told the Platinum Primary Producers annual conference in Wellington that the renegotiation of the agreement was a "massive opportunity".

New Zealand is expected to focus on the removal of special safeguards that were put in place by China against New Zealand agricultural products, safeguards that were not included under the Australia-China free trade agreement which is a year old.

Under most favoured nation clauses in the NZ-China agreement, both countries are entitled to improve the terms of the agreement to the standards applied to subsequent agreements with other nations.

Key also said that NZ was keen to get access to China for chilled products. The Meat Industry Association has said gaining access for chilled meat exports would open up an "enormous" potential market for the country's $6.83 billion meat export industry.

Last month the Wood Council called for officials to tackle the obstacles the forestry industry faced as part of the upgrade. Chairman Brian Stanley told Radio New Zealand that non-tariff barriers imposed by China meant that his industry took the view that there was no FTA in place.

The upcoming talks have also impacted on Chinese investment in New Zealand.

Shanghai Pengxin withdrew its judicial review of the Overseas Investment Office's decision to reject its bid to buy the Lochinver sheep and beef station near Taupo at the start of the month.

Chairman Jiang Zhaobai said at the time that "good relationships and the FTA between our two countries are more important than private business."

Key's trip will also see him address students at Tsinghua University, meet Chinese business leaders and attend the launch of the New Zealand Film Festival in Shanghai. He'll be accompanied by Trade Minister Todd McClay and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy for the visit, which takes place between April 17-22.

- BusinessDesk

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