Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's visit is probably not the top of mind for French President Emmanuel Macron as he deals with Syria but Ardern is set to try to push him into a stronger vote of support for an EU-New Zealand free trade deal.

Ardern will meet with Macron tonight on the first call of her Europe trip to Paris and Berlin before heading to London for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

And in a last minute addition to her Europe trip, she will also meet with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Paris early tomorrow morning as the three so-called "under 40" leaders congregate in the city.

All three were under 40 when first elected.


Ardern said her top priority with Macron will be the free trade talks with the EU.

The EU is expected to sign off on the mandate for those talks in late May but New Zealand is keen to ensure there are no last-minute hiccups.

That could include concerns from France about its agricultural sector - Ardern said she would raise that head-on and urge him not to let it be a stumbling block to the commencement of talks.

"[I will say] that some of the issues that have been raised we have faced before in many free trade negotiations. That's what the negotiating table is for and we have been able to resolve them in the past and anticipate resolving them in the future, keeping in mind their interests and ours."

In return, Ardern is likely to be asked for a vote of support of missile strikes on Syria by France, the UK and US as a punishment for Syria's likely use of chemical weapons.

Ardern's initial response was that New Zealand "accepts" the missile strikes by France, the US and UK because the UN itself was hamstrung by Russia's veto on the Security Council.

That falls short of the more unequivocal "supports" which was used by Australia's PM Malcolm Turnbull and Canada's Justin Trudeau but is in line with New Zealand's stance on military intervention that does not have a UN mandate.

Another potential hiccup appears to have been forestalled - after free trade talks with Russia were included in NZ First's coalition agreement there were veiled warnings any moves could imperil the FTA with the EU because of EU sanctions on Russia.


That clause was put on ice by Ardern as part of New Zealand's response to the use of nerve agent in the UK on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia.

Asked about that Russia agreement, Ardern states clearly that the EU agreement is "absolutely a priority for us".

Asked if the same can be said for Peters who was in Europe, including Brussels, ahead of her, she says he is "a huge proponent of free trade".

"He himself has been very strong on the importance of trade and furthering our opportunities. He even flagged the Commonwealth as a future platform for us and we collectively know the EU represents $15 billion worth of two-way trade."

Savage said the EU was clear that it would prefer to see "our friends" align themselves with the EU position on Russia.

"For us it is an important issue. We have experience in Europe of borders being changed by force. So this is an issue which is at the heart of what the EU is."

He said if New Zealand pursued a free trade agreement with Russia it could make it harder to sell the NZ-EU FTA to EU states, especially those whose agricultural producers were now missing out on trade because of the sanctions.

"We want to pursue this free trade agreement with New Zealand but of course we would then obviously have to bring particularly our agricultural producers with us."

He said that would be harder if those farmers and producers saw another country taking advantage of their exclusion from the Russian market for while there was still trade going on it was more limited.

Ardern talks with Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel tomorrow night will also likely canvas the "trade wars" between US and China and growing concern about protectionism.

Ardern said it was important countries which favoured the international rules-based system of the WTO did not blink in light of those tit-for-tat tariff retaliations.

Those trade wars could work in New Zealand's favour with the EU agreement, according to the EU Ambassador to New Zealand, Bernard Savage.

"We are of the view that nobody wins in trade wars, everybody loses. So we will redouble our efforts in pursuing FTAs that we currently are negotiating and looking to continue our current 'trade for all' policy which seeks to establish trade agreements with like-minded countries."

Coming up

Tonight: PM Jacinda Ardern flies into Paris from the Commonwealth Games to meet French President Emmanuel Macron at Élysées Palace.
She delivers a speech on climate change at a university in Paris before travelling to Berlin.

Tomorrow night: Ardern has a working lunch with German Chancellor Angela Merkel before speaking at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation about progressive growth.