British Prime Minister Theresa May told John Key today there were new opportunities for trade between New Zealand and Britain.

She made her opening remarks at their first formal meeting since she took the leadership in the wake of Britain's vote in June to leave the European Union.

The meeting took place 7.30pm New York time at an official British residence on the edge of the East River in New York during the sideline of the UN leaders week.

"I think we now have some interesting opportunities for developing trade between UK and New Zealand," she said


Key congratulated her on getting the job

And then they touched on a number of issues including the Syria crisis - Britain is part of the US-led coalition strike force active in Syria - the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Asia.

Key told reporters after the meeting that they had discussed a free trade agreement earlier, when he first telephoned to congratulate her on winning the top job.

But no timeline has been discussed in view of the fact that Britain is still working on its terms of exit from the European Union which will take two years from the point of formal notification.

"We didn't push her on that."

He said the British were keen "to pick our brains" on trade expertise and May had appreciated the support New Zealand had given.

New Zealand's chief TPP trade negotiator, David Walker, and New Zealand's World Trade Organisation ambassador, Vangelis Vitalis, had been to Britain to share their expertise.

The EU has negotiated trade deals for member countries and so Britain does not have many specialist trade negotiators.

Trade was a recurring theme of Key's other meetings, including with EU Council President Donald Tusk.

The EU is going through formalities required to start free trade talks which are expected to be launched within a year.

Key said Tusk seemed to keen to show that the EU was open for business.

Saudi Deputy Prime Minister Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud meets John Key and Murray McCully. Photo / Audrey Young
Saudi Deputy Prime Minister Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud meets John Key and Murray McCully. Photo / Audrey Young

Key also met with Saudi Arabia Deputy Prime Minister Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Nayef Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Key emerged from the Saudi talks saying it was possible the stalled 2009 deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council, of which Saudi Arabia is a leading member, could be back on.

Trade Minister Todd McClay will be heading to Riyadh next week for talks.

Key told reporters he believed the agri-hub set up by New Zealand had helped.

"It helps. It's another sign of things that we are doing," he told reporters.

"I made the point to them that it's a great example of how we are investing in their market, how we are developing capability in their market, because they genuinely do want to build their own capability in agriculture, but given their climatic conditions, they are never going to be able to produce the amount of food that these countries need."

Foreign Minister Murray McCully attended the bilateral meeting as well.

He oversaw the establishment of the agri-hub, which is being investigated by the Auditor General. It was set up with a Saudi businessman whose investments in New Zealand had been affected by the banning on live sheep exports.

McCully is due to meet up again with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Friday.

Key met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as well but declined to say later whether they had discussed the issue of alleged steel dumping in New Zealand.

"There was a wide-ranging discussion about a lot of different issues. For a whole bunch of reasons I can't go into what they might involve but there were wide-ranging discussions about economic issues."

Key reiterated that the "reboot" of the free trade agreement with China was progressing more slowly than he had hoped.​