New Zealand to enter free trade deal talks with 'oldest friends' the UK

Talks for a free trade deal between New Zealand and the UK will soon get underway, as the two nations formally enter negotiations.

Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker says talks should commence next month.

"As the UK embarks on its next steps post-Brexit, New Zealand is pleased to be among the first countries to negotiate a trade agreement with one of our oldest friends," he said in a statement.

Parker said they hope an agreement will open up more opportunities for New Zealand's small and medium businesses.

"New Zealand and the United Kingdom have a close relationship, including strong trade and economic ties, common values and traditions, and a shared history."

In September, the UK said New Zealand was one of three countries it considered a top priority for post-Brexit free trade.

The UK is New Zealand's sixth-largest trading partner, with two-way trade totalling $6 billion last year.

Brexit, the referendum that divided a nation, saw Britain leave the European Union in February. It took three-and-half years and two elections to pass into law.

Current Prime Minister Boris Johnson was a vocal advocate in the Brexit campaign and was able to push legislation through thanks to his election victory in December.

Parker said it made even more sense to work with the UK in a post-Brexit environment.

It's hoped a bilateral free trade agreement will be significant for both New Zealand and the UK, he said, as the world's economy continues to be impacted by COVID-19.

"Both sides underscored their commitment to achieving an early conclusion to a high-quality, comprehensive and inclusive trade agreement," Parker's statement said.

A deal between the two nations is likely to remove tariffs on trade and streamline customs procedures.