UK keen for NZ trade deal after Brexit

  • 14/01/2017
Theresa May and Bill English
UK Prime Minister Theresa May and NZ Prime Minister Bill English outside Downing St in London on January 13 (Reuters)

Britain says it's eager to strike a new free trade deal with New Zealand once the UK leaves the European Union.

New Zealand's new Prime Minister Bill English met with British Prime Minister Theresa May at Downing St. He says they share a common interest in making a deal.

"We discussed the need to show to the public that free trade can lift their incomes, provide more jobs, but also has a benefit for the whole of your community, not just some of it. So I think we've got a pretty similar approach there," he says.

He's eager to see a smooth transition by Britain from the European Union, before signing any new deals.

"What's in our interest is that they get through that process in a way that's not too disruptive. Both of these are very significant trading partners for us, and the European Union and the UK are places where we have a lot of alignment about what we want to achieve in the world," he says.

"We want to strengthen relations with partners like New Zealand," Ms May says.

"So today we've talked about Brexit and the opportunity it presents to deepen our bilateral ties, increasing our trade relationship and continuing our close security cooperation."

Bill English and Theresa May with rugby jerseys
The two leaders swapped rugby jerseys (Newshub.)

No NZ-UK deal can be done until Britain formally leaves the European Union after a two-year unhooking process.

"We're a credible partner for the UK to be able to demonstrate to the rest of the world that when they leave Europe they can do high-quality, comprehensive trade deals," Mr English told reporters on Friday after meeting Mrs May.

"We're making a pitch and they're responding very positively," he said.

"We weren't seeking assurances about the type of deal but it was good to hear from her the real enthusiasm for getting on and doing a deal with New Zealand."

Mr English said it was difficult to say what kind of free trade deal New Zealand and the UK could do until the end of Brexit.

"Agriculture will be a sticking point, it is the sticking point in every negotiation that we do and the reason for that is we have such an efficient agricultural sector, it's one of our comparative advantages."

But the prime minister said New Zealand had a diverse export portfolio and a trade agreement would have to deal with a wide range of issues.

He said the close ties between the UK and New Zealand should underpin getting a good deal "but it doesn't guarantee we'll get everything that we want".

When asked about US President-elect Donald Trump's anti-free trade sentiments Mr English said he and Mrs May discussed their common advocacy of open markets and free trade to lift incomes and provide more jobs.

"When there is discussion, not just in the US but in other places, about more protectionism, those of us who are in favour of open economies and free trade advocate it."

Mr English said he raised the issue of Kiwis' rights being eroded in the UK in recent years but he recognised that migration into the UK was a core issue that Britain was working out with Europe.

"So we indicated that we'll continue to advocate for easier access for Kiwis, a lot of Kiwis want to come here, use their skills, experience the culture.

"But we wouldn't expect we would get engagement on it until they've dealt with the big issues," Mr English said.

"I don't think we should push Mrs May's goodwill too hard on it."