Trade Minister Damien O'Connor expects 'commercially meaningful' deals during trip to UK and EU

Trade Minister Damien O'Connor  will travel to the UK and EU next week.
Trade Minister Damien O'Connor will travel to the UK and EU next week. Photo credit: Newshub

By Anneke Smith for RNZ

The Minister of Trade and Export Growth Damien O'Connor says he hopes to make solid progress on free trade agreements on his visit to the UK and EU next week.

O'Connor is travelling to London, Brussels, Singapore and Paris in a bid to push ongoing negotiations with the United Kingdom and European Union.

He said his in-person visit would add political weight to trade and export talks that have so far fallen short of New Zealand's expectations.

The trip marks the first international travel by a New Zealand Minister since the COVID-19 pandemic began in February 2020.

O'Connor said, while virtual technology had enabled talks to continue during the pandemic, he was looking forward to the face-to-face engagement.

"Being able to meet with my counterparts - albeit socially distanced - will help us move towards concluding a high quality, comprehensive and inclusive free trade agreement.

"Regarding the UK, following completion of the fifth round, which might be at the end of this week or weekend, I'll be reinforcing expectations that we have a high-quality, comprehensive and inclusive deal with the UK. Central to this will be a commercially meaningful goods market access offer from the Brits.

"In Brussels I'll be reinforcing New Zealand's expectations that key outstanding issues in the FTA talks, including market access, trade and sustainable development and intellectual property need to be worked through."

The Minister said he hoped to make solid progress on negotiations during his time overseas but there was still a way to go before any deal was sealed.

"At this stage of trade negotiations we are still some way from the finish but hopefully in some of the tricky areas we have reached political agreement."

O'Connor said so far the UK's offers had fallen "well short" of New Zealand's expectations and while he wanted to make progress, he would not sacrifice quality for speed.

He said the United Kingdom was under pressure to secure free trade agreements post-Brexit.

"They've openly said that they want to get out and negotiate trade agreements. Clearly that's part of the post-Brexit strategy they have and I think it's been said a number of times in the UK that if they can't do a deal with New Zealand and Australia then who can they do one with?"

This week Scottish food producers sent a letter warning UK Trade Secretary Liz Truss about the free trade agreement being developed by Australia.

The proposed agreement's main criticism is that a zero-tariffs, zero-quotas deal the government in Canberra is demanding would undercut British farmers and businesses.

Speaking to New Zealand's position, O'Connor said he was only looking for "reasonable access" to the United Kingdom and European Union markets.

"In total, we can probably feed 40 million people. Clearly China is our number one market, South East Asia and other markets consume a lot of our produce.

"The amount left to go into the UK and EU is not that great and has done a reasonable job over the years of complimenting what those European and UK producers put into the market."

O'Connor wouldn't comment on reports of the Australian government possibly walking away from their latest offer, other than to say New Zealand was working on its own agreement.

'I think we both aspire to have a high-quality, commercially meaningful trade negotiation and conclusion. We're very similar in our approach in almost all of these trade deals.

"We're trusting that, their aspirations, while they have a different portfolio of trade links with the UK, in the end I'm sure their trade deal won't be exactly the same as ours. We're mindful that we both need to try and get high standards and outcomes."

O'Connor will be accompanied by MFAT deputy secretary and chief negotiator for the EU free trade agreement Vangelis Vitalis.

New Zealand's Dublin-based chief negotiator for the UK-NZ free trade agreement Brad Burgess will join O'Connor for the London leg of the trip.

O'Connor will visit London, Brussels and Singapore en route to Paris on his trade trip before quarantining in an MIQ facility for 14 days.