Prime Minister John Key says New Zealand is likely to take a more transparent approach to trade negotiations with the European Union than other FTAs.

Key left Brussels this morning after what he called "amazingly constructive" meetings with the EU Commission and Council leadership and an agreement to start work on a comprehensive free trade agreement.

Two-way trade at present between New Zealand and Europe stands at $19 billion, with the prospect of that increasing under an FTA with a market of 500 million consumers.

Key said it was "not impossible" a deal could be signed in 2017 but it was probably or realistic by 2018 - 19, the end of the incumbent Commission.

Speaking to the Herald this morning en route to Britain, he acknowledged that the EU was conducting its FTAs in a more transparent way and indicated New Zealand would follow suit.

"But on the basis that there is more transparency on the European side, it would be self-defeating not to do so on our side."

The reason New Zealand had historically kept everything behind closed doors was either because it had been agreed by the parties at the outset, as with the 12 countries in the Trans Pacific Partnership or because it had been in New Zealand's interest to keep its cards close to its chest.

In Europe's trade talks with the United States, it has been consulting widely on positions it should take and has posted position papers Online before tabling them for negotiation and been more open about progress made during talks.

It has also proposed a new kind of investor-state dispute procedure that would take resolutions of disputes into an open specialised international court, rather than closed-door arbitration which has attracted much opposition.

New Zealand has been trying for a long time to get trade talks with Europe.

"It's very much like a treaty [of Waitangi] settlement.
"You can't make it happen just because one party wants it to take place. It has to happen because both sides are committed to the process.
"It has certainly taken some time but it is not unique to New Zealand. Australia is in the same position."

Australia will have parallel talks with the EU but Mr Key said he had been advised that an FTA with New Zealand would be easier for Europe than the Australia.

After the trade-focused talks, Key visited Tyne Cot cemetery, the last resting place of many of the 5000 New Zealanders who are buried in Belgium.

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He also attended an investiture for four Belgian citizens who have become new honorary members of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

They were named in this year's Queen's Birthday honours list.

Notes on their background including the following details:

• Freddy Declerck has been chairman of the Memorial Museum Passschendaele 1917, has helped New Zealand families locate family members buried in Flanders Fields and is a life member of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association.

• Sandy Evrard is the Mayor of Messines and has been instrumental in redeveloping the town's museum to recognise the role of New Zealand in the battle.

• Benoit Mottrie is the chairman of the Last Post Association in Ypres (Ieper) which organizes the nightly playing of the Last Post at the Menin Gate, attended each night by hundreds or thousands of people. He MCs major commemorative ceremonies on such occasions as Anzac Day or Armistice Day.

• Steven Reynaert, a council youth worker, was the main driver of a guided walk through Messines called 'Footsteps of the New Zealanders' and has provided support to the New Zealand Government's Western Front heritage trail project.