New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English and China Premier Li Keqiang signed off a series of cooperation deals spanning trade, customs, travel and climate change and confirmed commencement of official talks on an upgrade to the nine-year old free-trade agreement between the two countries.

The Chinese premier, who is leading a delegation of senior ministers, government officials and businesspeople, met English at Premier House in Wellington today. At the end of the meeting, English said official talks to upgrade the existing FTA between the nations will start on April 25 with a goal of building on the deal that's seen two-way trade triple to $23 billion since it came into force in 2008.

"The agreement to commence negotiations also confirms the commitment of both countries to open trade and economic growth," English said in a statement. "Trade openness and strong ties in the region are critical to New Zealand's economic growth, prosperity, and job creation."

The meeting also saw 21 other agreements signed, including a six-month trial for 10 local meat processors to sell chilled meat to China for the first time, mutual recognition of trusted exporters to speed up the customs process, a new air services agreement to increase the number of flights between the countries, and the adoption of a climate change action plan.


The trade-focused initiatives signed today will allow: a six-month period for chilled beef, goat and sheep meat into China and provides an export plan for Chinese onions into New Zealand; customs cooperation for trusted exporters to be in place from July this year; an e-commerce arrangement to set high-level principles for more cooperation between the nations; and a memorandum of arrangement to find a way to draw New Zealand into China's Belt and Road regional trade strategy.

The agreements come after English launched New Zealand's refreshed trade strategy to 2030, with the government set to inject $91.3m over the next four years to beef up the ability to negotiate new free trade deals, get more out of existing ones, and break down non-tariff barriers that have become increasingly popular as a form of protectionism.

The climate change and environmental initiatives signed today seek to increase cooperation between the nations to meet their international obligations as China starts rolling out its own emissions trading scheme, introduces joint research efforts focusing on freshwater quality, which is a major issue in China, promote sustainable fishing in the Pacific, and to create a framework for the nations to coordinate their regional aid and development efforts.

The air services agreement will immediately lift the weekly flight cap to 59 from 49, with a further 11 flights pending talks later in the year, while Chinese multiple-entry visas into New Zealand have been extended to five years from three years and Chinese passport holders will be allowed to use SmartGate entry. The two countries have declared 2019 as an official year of China-New Zealand tourism.

Two agricultural initiatives signed today will see a new joint programme focused on animal health and a new research arrangement on biosecurity and plant protection.

Other agreements signed include the renewal of an existing education programme, a New Zealand-China mayoral forum to be held in Wellington in December this year, a new plan to cooperate on science and technology, a joint 'blue skies' science health research collaboration, and a renewal of an arrangement on intellectual property cooperation.