China and New Zealand are celebrating the fifth anniversary of the signing and implementation of the free trade agreement between our two countries.
Five years on, the benefits of the China-New Zealand FTA have become more and more obvious. The destinies of our two countries are now bound together and we are enjoying mutual benefits - a real win-win result. It's fair to say that the FTA opened up a new dimension for China-New Zealand co-operation.
Over the past five years, bilateral trade has leapfrogged. In 2008 - the year the FTA was implemented - bilateral trade rose by 30 per cent despite the global financial and economic crisis, which attracted worldwide attention. That year, China became New Zealand's second-largest trading partner. From then on bilateral trade has grown at an astonishing rate: annual growth has averaged 18.6 per cent. Last year bilateral trade exceeded $14.5 billion, nearly double the figure for 2007.
Between January and August this year, bilateral trade totalled $10.9 billion, making China New Zealand's largest trading partner for the first time.
Above all, the most remarkable achievement is the huge increase in exports of NZ's high-quality agricultural products to China. In the past five years, exports of dairy and meat products to China increased by over 500 per cent and wood products by over 300 per cent. Even those who were most optimistic about China-NZ trade and economic co-operation could not have foreseen such dramatic development.
Today, NZ's dairy, beef, mutton and kiwifruit are household names in China.
The signing of the FTA was the result of deep political trust between both sides, and its successful implementation has further enhanced that trust and laid a solid political foundation for bilateral relations. During my three-year tenure as Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand, I witnessed the unprecedented close relationship between our two countries. As Chinese Premier Li Keqiang put it when he met the visiting Prime Minister John Key in April this year: "China-NZ relationship is at its best ever in history, and has set a model for mutually beneficial co-operation between developing and developed countries."
Led by the successful implementation of the FTA, people-to-people and cultural exchanges between our two countries have become much more frequent, significantly lifting the profile of New Zealand in China.
For 10 years in a row, China has been NZ's largest source of international students, with about 20,000 Chinese youngsters studying in NZ each year. Your beautiful Middle-earth scenery and Kiwis' hospitality attract more and more Chinese. China is now NZ's second-largest and fastest-growing source of foreign tourists. Last year, more than 200,000 Chinese tourists visited NZ. Both sides also hold film festivals and cultural performances full of variety. Close people-to-people and cultural exchanges enhance mutual understanding and friendship and create a sound social basis for the sustainable development of the bilateral relationship.
With the rising scale and level of co-operation, it's very natural to see some economic and trade problems. I do agree with Trade Minister Tim Groser that the way to evaluate bilateral relations is not by asking whether there are problems, but how the problems were resolved. It's exactly the approach we took in dealing with the NZ meat export delay and the milk powder contamination scare.
The China-NZ FTA was the first FTA China signed and implemented with a developed country. We have every reason to be proud of it, but we also have the responsibility of implementing it successfully and improving it constantly. Taking the fifth anniversary of the FTA as a new starting point, both sides should upgrade co-operation in agriculture, animal husbandry and forestry, and cultivate new growth points for co-operation such as finance, energy-saving, emission-reduction and clean energy.
We should also strengthen exchanges and co-operation on food-safety supervision and risk prevention, as well as food production, processing and storage technologies. By enhancing the level of bilateral economic and trade co-operation, we can be confident of fulfilling the task of pushing bilateral trade to $20 billion by 2015.
It is my privilege to witness the rapid development of our bilateral relationship and to play my part in this endeavour. At the conclusion of my three-year term this month, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the New Zealand Government and people from all walks of life for your strong support for bilateral relations and for myself. I believe that with the joint effort of both sides, the friendship and co-operation between our nations will develop on a healthy and stable course, and create more welfare for the people of both nations.