Some "serious talking" still needs to be done to seal a New Zealand-European Free Trade Agreement but a good outcome looks possible, says a visiting senior Irish government minister.
Heather Humphreys, Ireland's Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, is the first Irish minister to visit this country since Ireland and New Zealand opened embassies in Wellington and Dublin respectively last year.
Leading a week-long trade mission with 11 companies, she met Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor and Trade Minister David Parker at Fieldays in Hamilton this week.
In a meeting with the Herald onsite at the Southern Hemisphere's biggest agricultural show, Humphreys said the four ministers had discussed free trade agreement talks progress.
"I believe it's moved on very quickly and it's beneficial and in everyone's interest if this agreement is finalised. There are some issues that have been addressed and some serious talking to be done but I think we will get a good outcome.
"New Zealand is negotiating with the EU and we are part of the EU and I feel there a good opportunities there and indeed for New Zealand, which is going to want a presence in Europe post-Brexit to access 500 million consumers (in Europe)."
The EU is New Zealand's largest source of imports and our third largest export market.
Last year exports to the EU, including Ireland and the UK, totalled $10.4 billion. New Zealand imports from the EU were about $15.5b, about 13 per cent of overall exports. New Zealand proposed the free trade agreement in 2009. The first round of talks took place in July last year in Brussels.
Last year New Zealand exported to Ireland goods to the value of NZ$125m, down from $145m in 2017.
Questioned on the Irish government's view of the Budget leak skirmish involving Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf who will soon take up a new job as governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, Humphreys said she looked forward to Makhlouf arriving in the role.
"He came through an interview process, he was selected as the best person for the job and he has a lot of qualifications. He's very well-placed to do a good job....I want to wish him well and look forward to him taking up the position."
Enterprise Ireland, which supports Irish companies to scale up and find new markets, has had a presence at Fieldays for 13 years but Humphreys is the first Irish minister to attend the annual event.
She said Ireland had recently employed a New Zealand-based business consultant and was promoting Ireland as a good place for Kiwi companies to set up if they wanted to expand into Europe.
As part of its preparations for post-Brexit business and trade, Ireland was looking for new markets and to diversify trading partners, Humphreys said.
Brexit was one of the greatest challenges facing Ireland in "many, many years", she said.
"There are opportunities for New Zealand companies in Ireland and for that reason i was very keen to come here.
"We have a lot in common."
Ireland was a good stepping stone for Kiwi companies wanting access to European markets, she said.
"Culturally we are very alike, we have the same language. We have common law, and Ireland is a very stable environment and a well-educated workforce - 33 per cent of our population are under the age of 25."
Ireland is recognised for reinventing itself about 20 years ago as a country nurturing innovation and technology advances.
Humphreys said it had put a big focus on research and development of new technology and had reaped the benefits.
"We have a lot of ICT companies, and the Googles and Facebooks of this world all have a presence in Dublin. Many other (global) companies also operate out of Dublin (following) our particular focus on the farming-tech sector, the med-tech sector and the fin-tech (finance) sector. They've been growing and are very successful.
"We spend a lot of money on research and development."