FTA our number one China priority.

New Zealand's relationship with China has been under increased public scrutiny of late. It is of enormous importance to the New Zealand economy and people are rightly interested in ensuring it is valued and maintained.

In simple economic terms, New Zealand's relationship with China helps our economy to remain robust and to grow and to weather international headwinds. Along with Australia it's the bedrock of our recent trade achievement — and it's time to take it to another level.

Two way trade is nearing a massive $30 billion, making China our largest trading partner. This trade contributes to almost every industry and every region and is responsible for creating tens and tens of thousands of jobs. Our relationship with China is important.


Beyond the economic, this partnership crosses many areas of mutual interest. People-to-people contact has built since the 1840s. We have co-operated in the areas of Pacific development, environment, agriculture and diplomacy. We've built greater understanding around immigration, investment and climate change. New Zealand companies even make films and TV programmes in China — an opportunity not dreamed of just a decade ago.

Where we have differences, like the death penalty or South China Sea, we have learnt to raise them respectfully and diplomatically, directly between officials, leaders and ministers, and not via the media.

This is a respect that must be maintained.

We often talk about a number of world "firsts" New Zealand shares with China. We were the first to welcome China into the World Trade Organisation and we were the first developed nation to sign a free trade agreement with them.

Since we signed our free trade agreement, trade between our countries has outpaced all expectations and has delivered huge dividends to the New Zealand economy.

In 2016, the then National Government began negotiations to upgrade our Free Trade Agreement (FTA). It was said at the time that the upgrade would be important in meeting the targeted of $30 billion of two-way trade by 2020 set by John Key and President Xi Jinping in 2014.

It is now time to set a new target. To double two-way trade from $30b to $60b over the next decade. Achievable — absolutely. With the right settings, concise and clear rules, a constructive relationship and a high quality upgrade to our FTA, it can happen.

The FTA upgrade needs to be completed to a very high standard this year. The quality of the upgrade needs to be another "first". It must be the launch pad to even greater highs for our trading relationship — it cannot be merely a box-ticking exercise.


Its completion should be our number one China priority this year.

The emerging dominance of e-commerce creates an opportunity to co-ordinate approaches between China and New Zealand and ensure a smooth flow of commerce and access for our companies and consumers. Clear rules to support e-commerce means every single New Zealander can share in the benefits of Chinese trade.

It must deal with non-tariff barriers and technical barriers to trade and delays at the boarder once and for all. It should push the barriers of residual tariff restriction for dairy exporters and should move to include the wood processing industry fully in the FTA.

The upgrade must also deliver on environmental protections, labour standards, intellectual property rules, and climate change. Only in this way will it be seen to be "comprehensive and progressive".

It will need to address investment and access, creating certainty for investors. It must be the platform for our engagement in the "Belt and Road" initiative.

New Zealand's approach to trade has always been ambitious and this ambition has delivered closer relationships, greater access to markets for our exporters, and created thousands of jobs here.

Our commitment to a bold trade agenda has helped to secure a strong and growing trade relationship with China. Just how committed we remain to an ambitious agenda will be judged by the speed and quality of the upgrade of the China New Zealand Free Trade Agreement.

● Todd McClay MP is the Member of Parliament for Rotorua and National's spokesman for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Tourism.