New Zealand and the United Kingdom will begin negotiations in earnest on a free trade agreement once the UK leaves the European Union in March next year.

The Government is now seeking submissions on the free trade agreement, setting in motion the steps needed to begin negotiations after Brexit on March 29, 2019.

"The UK is one of New Zealand's oldest friends, and a free trade agreement makes a lot of sense. Our shared history, similar legal structures and openness to trade mean a high quality, comprehensive and progressive free trade agreement is a natural next step after Brexit," Trade Minister David Parker said today.

"Both New Zealand and the UK have committed to launching negotiations as soon as the UK is in a position to do so."

Britain's International Trade Secretary Liam Fox welcomed the step.

"I am delighted that New Zealand's Trade Minister David Parker is taking the necessary steps so we can begin to negotiate a highly ambitious free trade agreement that is fit for the 21st century. This will help to create jobs in both our countries and give consumers greater choice at lower prices, as well as pulling British businesses closer to the rapidly growing Asia-Pacific region," Fox said in a statement.

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"New Zealand is one of our closest and greatest friends. With our deep shared heritage and unwavering commitment to free and fair trade, it is only right that New Zealand is one of the first countries that we will strike an new trade agreement with after we leave the European Union."

Britain announced in August that New Zealand, Australia and the United States would be the first countries it would negotiate with post-Brexit on new free trade agreements.

New Zealand is the second to launch consultation, after US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer made a request for comments last week.

Two-way trade with Britain is worth $2.9 billion – New Zealand exports $1.6b and imports $1.3b.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has taken her Brexit plan to the EU, where it has been endorsed by EU leaders. She now has to get the backing of Parliament.