Post-Brexit deal: Ardern in the right place at the right time

A former trade negotiator says Jacinda Ardern's long-planned meeting with Theresa May couldn't have had better timing.

The Prime Minister is in the UK, where she'll meet her UK equivalent Theresa May, who's deep in Brexit renegotiations her own MPs after they rejected her plan.

Ms Ardern will be hoping to push New Zealand's case for an orderly split from the European Union, rather than a messy no-deal split on March 29.

"It's very useful for the Prime Minister to remind her British colleague of the strong interest we have in an orderly outcome, and we need to find some solution fast," Charles Finny told The AM Show on Friday.

"I don't think I can recall anything quite so chaotic in terms of a policy process as what we're observing in the UK right now over Brexit."

Mr Finny was the lead negotiator when New Zealand secured a historic trade deal with China, and is currently on the board of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, the agency tasked with growing Kiwi businesses.

He says the most at risk, should Ms May fail to get a Brexit plan B across the line, would be our meat industry.

"But they're doing an excellent job. They've put people into the UK, they've got contingency plans in place. I'm sure Fonterra does as well. It's not going to be the end of the world, but it would be best if we don't have any disruption."

Should there be any delays getting goods into the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit, he doesn't expect they would be long.

"I'd be very surprised if it's weeks... but it could be many hours or days, and when you're talking about perishable product, that's not a good thing."

Charles Finny.
Charles Finny. Photo credit: The AM Show

Newshub Europe correspondent Lloyd Burr said New Zealand would be one of the first cabs off the rank for a deal with the UK, should a new one be required.

"As [ex-UK Foreign Minister] Boris Johnson said... New Zealand is at the top of the list for a free trade deal with the United Kingdom."

But Burr doesn't think Ms May will pay too much attention to Ms Ardern, and a trade deal could take longer than hoped.

"I asked [Ms Ardern], 'Can you give Kiwi businesses any reassurances that you're there on their side, and that you can help ease this process?' But she said she's not a British politician. And even the British politicians, the British Prime Minister Theresa May can't really do much. She can't even get Brexit through the House of Commons. She can't deliver Brexit, let alone think about a possible free trade deal with New Zealand."

After meeting with Ms May, Ms Ardern will be off to Europe to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"The Prime Minister's getting star billing, up there with the Prime Minister of Japan," said Mr Finney.

"The world will be very interested in seeing her, meeting her, seeing what she has to say... [But] I'm not sure there are going to be any solutions however to the global economic woes at this meeting."

Then it's off to Brussels to discuss a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.

"A free trade deal could be locked and loaded with the EU in the next year," said Burr. "It's very important for Kiwi exporters - it's our third-biggest trading partner."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson is accompanying Ms Ardern on the northern hemisphere sojourn.


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