New Zealand PM pushes for quick start to EU trade talks

NZ Prime Minister Bill English wants a quick start to trade talks with the EU. [European Commission]

New Zealand aims to begin talks on a free trade deal with the European Union as soon as possible, Prime Minister Bill English said today (16 January) after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who endorsed the idea.

Merkel told reporters at a joint news conference with English that she would press the 28 nation EU to work toward a quick trade accord with New Zealand.

She said there were no plans to link such an accord with New Zealand’s willingness to take in more refugees but welcomed the country’s plans to provide more agriculture-based development aid to African countries.

Merkel also said Germany would pay close attention to a speech UK Prime Minister Theresa May is to make on tomorrow (17 January) about her government’s plan to leave the EU but that the negotiations would hinge on the content of the Article 50 application that it files to exit the bloc.

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“What will really count is what (application) is turned in to Europe,” Merkel said. “We will deal with the decision that Britain makes for itself… We’ll wait and see, and we’ll take a look at it and will react to that.”

The British pound fell sharply today after reports in some British newspapers that May’s speech on Tuesday would harden Britain’s stance towards an economic bloc that accounts for roughly half its exports and imports.

English also said New Zealand would look to agree a “high-quality” free trade pact with the UK as soon as possible after it exits the EU.

“We would negotiate an agreement with Britain when it’s not in the EU and it’s ready to negotiate,” English said. “We wouldn’t see a role to get ahead of that process.”

Britain is not able to sign its own trade deals with third countries while it remains an EU member but the May government has said it is keen to start preparatory talks so agreements can be reached quickly after it leaves.

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English said it would become clear in coming weeks what actions the administration of incoming US President Donald Trump will take regarding the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement.

“If there is a change in the American policy and they decide not to sign up to it, then we’d look for other ways of continuing that engagement,” English said.

Trump, who has said free trade deals have killed many jobs in the United States, said in November he would withdraw the United States from the TPP. English said New Zealand was keen to see continuing US engagement in Asia.

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