English concerned about latest price fall but says tariff review could benefit sector.

Finance Minister Bill English says the current review of tariffs in the China New Zealand free trade agreement was one of the things that could benefit the dairy sector.

Mr English has just returned from a trip to China for a signing ceremony to establish the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, initiated by China.

He met President Xi Jinping and lunched with Finance Minister Lou Jiwei where he talked about the review of FTA which was scheduled when it was signed eight years ago.

Talking yesterday about the latest fall in dairy prices, he said: "The continued decline is a concern.


"The most direct action we can take about that is to continue with negotiating the upgrade of the free trade agreement with China where a proportion of our sales are still subject to tariffs."

The fall was the ninth in a row and whole milk powder fell by 10.8 per cent.

"Generally it looks like these prices are going to be lower for longer but it's important to keep it [in] perspective. Dairying is just under 6 per cent of the economy and around 20 per cent of exports."

On the back of the fall the New Zealand dollar fell to a five-year low which Mr English said would help to cushion the pressure in the dairy industry, as would the flat-to-falling interest rates.

"So the right adjustments are occurring."

Asked about the banks' willingness to see the dairy industry through the downturn, he said the Reserve Bank talked to banks in detail about that, and cited the global financial crisis.

"They had fairly recent experience of this four or five years ago and they conducted themselves pretty responsibly last time and I'd expect they would this time."

Mr English is heading back to China in the second week of a two-week parliamentary recess which has just begun. Mr English spoke with Mr Lou about the challenges facing the Chinese economy and shares losing over 20 per cent in value in the past two weeks.


"They are relying on their track record on managing the pressures of growth.

"So far they've been pretty good at it even when the job has looked tricky. They're in another phase where maintaining growth at the same time as reducing these financial problems is quite difficult to do but they have a track record that indicates they are able to do it."

Mr English was one of three deputy leaders at the signing ceremony in Beijing who were invited to speak at the ceremony.

New Zealand is one of 57 countries that have signed up to the bank which begins with authorised capital of US$50 billion ($75 billion), building to US$100 billion.

China's voting share is 26 per cent which will give it veto powers because major decisions will require a 75 per cent majority.

Mr English said, however, that that would not be a problem.


"The way the Chinese Government has approached this indicates that they want a transparent decision-making process."