Jacinda Ardern to lead delegation to Australia, Damien O'Connor headed to UK for trade talks

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will travel to Australia in July - her first overseas trip since the COVID-19 pandemic began early last year.

During a pre-Budget speech in Auckland on Thursday, the Prime Minister announced she would lead a trade and promotional delegation to Australia in July. 

"I will be looking to further strengthen business ties with our trans-Tasman partners."

She also revealed Trade Minister Damien O'Connor would travel to London and Brussels next month to progress negotiations for New Zealand's Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with the UK and EU. He will undertake 14 days of MIQ upon return and be vaccinated before departing. 

"Securing high-quality, comprehensive and inclusive FTAs with the EU and UK expands our market opportunities, playing a big part in our COVID-19 trade recovery strategy and building on what have been longstanding traditional relationships," Ardern said.

Last week, O'Connor said New Zealand and the UK had "agreed to rapidly lift the tempo" of their FTA talks off the back of a fourth round of negotiations. The bones of the agreement were agreed to, but O'Connor said he had emphasised to UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss that there is still "significant" work to do on market access outcomes, particularly for agriculture. 

He said on Thursday that he has recently had "constructive calls and virtual engagements" with his UK and EU counterparts.

"Virtual engagements are useful, but to make significant further progress in both negotiations before the European summer, I am visiting the capitals in person to reinforce New Zealand’s expectations and give these talks every chance of success."

Ardern said the two trips are "hugely significant" in light of the pandemic. 

"I can also assure you that when our key trading partners over and above Australia look to re-open their borders and we have greater movement between countries, I will look to lead delegations into Europe, the United States, China and the wider Asia-Pacific.

"But equally, I want to make as much progress as we can right now."

She said New Zealand's COVID-19 response is part of what makes it an "attractive proposition".

"We are seen as COVID-free, safe and stable, astute crisis managers and enjoying a strong recovery. This is compelling to business and investors who’ve been badly impacted by COVID overseas, but also a great brand proposition for our exporters.

"We need to keep sending the message that New Zealand continues to be a great place to do business."

New Zealand's borders remained closed to most foreigners. However, in April, a quarantine-free travel bubble opened with Australia, allowing normal two-way movement between the nations. 

Back in November, Ardern said she would head overseas when border settings allowed.

"When our border settings change I plan to lend my support to extending our trade efforts by leading a business delegation to key trading partners, including the US, China and the UK and EU, who we are currently in free trade talks with."