New Zealand could be the accidental beneficiary from the election of Donald Trump as US President and the Brexit vote if it speeds up the pace of free trade talks with the European Union in a bid to stamp out protectionism.

Prime Minister Bill English met with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels earlier this morning.

Both were optimistic a free trade deal between New Zealand and the EU would go ahead - and Tusk pointed to the need to send a message to the rest of the world as protectionism set in, both in Europe and elsewhere.

The election of Trump has resulted in the effective end to the Trans Pacific Partnership and the rise of Marine Le Pen, the National Front presidential candidate in France, is another example of a move toward protectionist policies.


English was reluctant to say New Zealand could be better placed with the EU because of Brexit, but said New Zealand had shown it was a stable and consistent partner, and the EU recognised that was important.

"I think our position has been economically stable, politically stable and a country that believes in open markets, trade, migration. These are things the EU values - in fact they're at the core of its discussions with Britain over Brexit - and we are pretty well aligned."

He said both New Zealand and the EU wanted to demonstrate to the wider world that such trade agreements were both possible and positive.

"It's an important signal. When you've got so much political uncertainty, this makes it clear that one of the largest economies in the world is interested in doing free trade deals and keen to do one with New Zealand, even if there are a few political challenges with it."

While Juncker said he believed a trade deal was possible in 2-3 years - much less than the 6-10 years it has taken others, English was more realistic, saying many of the same obstacles that had confronted New Zealand in the past still had to be worked through, including sensitivities over agriculture.

English will turn his mind from trade to security on Thursday night when he is due to meet Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. English said most of New Zealand's contribution to security was done through Nato and those talks would look at what New Zealand's ongoing role could be.

There was less chance of attacks in New Zealand than Europe but there was always a risk New Zealanders would get caught up in attacks overseas.

"The risk in New Zealand is moderate but we work fairly hard to keep it that way and co-operation with other countries is an important part of keeping risk in New Zealand at low levels."

He said New Zealand had boosted its investment in keeping tabs on New Zealanders with links to Islamic State.