National leader Christopher Luxon says an upcoming European Parliamentary trip is "really important" and will help politicians build international relationships.
Speaker Trevor Mallard and National MP Judith Collins are leading a delegation of MPs who are travelling to Europe to help smooth the path for New Zealand's free trade agreement with the European Union.
The party will leave the country shortly after the Budget on May 19 and visit Crete, Athens, Rome, Warsaw, Brussels and Dublin. The MPs will also receive security briefings on the Ukraine invasion.
The trips have been criticised in the past with accusations they are unnecessary, tax-payer funded perks for already wealthy politicians.
It's a sentiment shared by ACT which has turned down the offer for two of its members to join, saying the trip has no clear purpose.
"These tours are expensive and it’s taxpayers who pick up the bill," ACT whip Brooke van Velden told the NZ Herald.
"It would be especially inappropriate to go on a taxpayer-funded junket without a clear policy purpose when debt and inflation are at record highs and Kiwis are feeling the pinch."
But speaking with AM on Wednesday, Luxon said the trip plays a key role for New Zealand commercially.
"Every year there is a speaker's tour and in this case they're going to Europe. We are trying to do an EU free trade agreement with the Europeans at the moment.
"It's really important from a parliamentarian point of view. Parliamentarians [need to have] people to people contacts up there in Europe as part of a broad set of negotiations."
Luxon said National decides who goes on the trip via a caucus vote - in this case the MPs are Collins and agriculture spokesperson Barbara Kuriger.
"Fundamentally I don't think it is a bad thing. These parliamentarians need to build relationships, it helps us commercially and I think it's important," Luxon said.
Mallard seemed to agree, telling the Herald the trip will play a key role in trade agreement negotiations.
"It is the first delegation since 2019, and there was a lot of discussion about Europe being the priority because of the FTA.
"It is the biggest thing that parliamentarians will be involved in that affects New Zealand probably for the next five years.
"It is in the interest of every New Zealander that we have a successful free trade agreement," he told NZME.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has just returned from her first international trip since the pandemic began.
The Prime Minister, her fiancé Clarke Gayford, Trade Minister Damien O'Connor, ministry officials, a 12-strong business delegation and members of the media travelled to Singapore and Japan.