NZ free trade deal with Europe on the table

  • 11/01/2017

A free trade agreement between New Zealand and the European Union could be just three years away, meetings with Prime Minister Bill English have revealed.

Mr English travelled to Brussels to meet with EU leaders this week in his first overseas trip since becoming prime minister.

After snow delayed his arrival in Belgium Mr English on Tuesday met with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss trade, Brexit, the refugee crisis and security.

"Today the president and I welcomed the strong progress made on the European Union New Zealand free trade agreement scoping progress and reconfirmed our joint commitment to launching formal negotiations as soon as possible this year," Mr English told reporters.

He hoped a high quality agreement could be developed quickly based on a partnership agreement signed by New Zealand and the EU, which comes into effect on Thursday.

Mr Tusk said he hoped negotiations at his end would be launched this year.

"It would also send a strong political signal of economic openness and trade at a time when protectionist pressures are on the rise, not only on our continent but also around the world," he said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English
The trip to Europe is Bill English's first overseas appointment as Prime Minister. (Getty)

While agreements with the EU usually take five to 10 years, with the latest Canadian agreement taking a full decade, he hoped an agreement with New Zealand can be in place in two to three years.

"We are friends, we are allies. We know each other and I think this could be done in a shorter period of time than it is usually done," he said.

The pair also used their meeting to discuss New Zealand's role on the United Nations Security Council, the refugee crisis, Syrian conflict and sanctions against Russia over the lack of progress in implementing the Minsk agreements.

Mr English, who is being accompanied on the trip by his wife Mary, will also meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.