Value in New Zealand diversifying trade beyond China, Chris Hipkins says, as Nanaia Mahuta flies to Beijing

The Prime Minister says New Zealand's trading relationships are not diverse enough and Kiwi exporters should make sure they're not putting all their eggs in one basket.

It comes as Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta flies to China, New Zealand's largest trading partner, for the first ministerial visit there since 2019.

Chris Hipkins said on Tuesday that she'd be carrying the message that "New Zealand values our relationship with China".

"It is a good opportunity for us to get back together, have a conversation," he said.

"Obviously, all the issues you would expect will be on the table, including our trading relationship which is very important to New Zealand. Some of the broader global issues I am sure will be on the table as well, including the overall environment we are living in at the moment."

That includes issues in the Pacific as well as the war in Ukraine. Mahuta is visiting Beijing in the same week Chinese President Xi Jinping has flown to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, currently wanted by the International Criminal Court.

In the years since New Zealand last sent ministers to Beijing, geopolitical tensions involving China have escalated. 

The Asian superpower's already frosty relationship with the United States cooled further this year over the spy balloon drama, there remains concern it could soon invade Taiwan - potentially bringing it into conflict with the US - and its rapidly trying to expand its influence in the Pacific. Its human rights record, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, is also tricky for Western countries to navigate.

That makes it a sensitive relationship for New Zealand - say or do one wrong thing and China could limit its imports and cause economic damage. China imposed trade restrictions on imports out of Australia in 2020 after Canberra called for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.

New Zealand has been encouraging exporters to diversify to ensure resilience

Hipkins on Tuesday said our trading relationships are not diverse enough and he believes there is value in diversifying beyond China.

"Absolutely. Any trading nation, as New Zealand is, is wise to make sure we have got a diverse network of trading relationships. Under our Government, you have seen a real focus on that."

He mentioned the Government's work on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as the conclusion of negotiations on the United Kingdom and European Union Free Trade Agreements. 

"My message to Kiwi exporters is yes, we do want to make sure you are not putting all your eggs in one basket, that you are diversifying. We do live in a globally uncertain world and business needs to make sure they are taking heed of that."

Hipkins hasn't held any foreign affairs positions in Government prior to becoming Prime Minister in January. 

He said there are "a lot of new things to get your head around very quickly" in his new role, but he's confident he can help promote New Zealand on the world stage.

Ahead of her trip, Mahuta called China "integral to New Zealand's economic recovery". 

"I intend to discuss areas where we cooperate, such as on trade, people-to-people and climate and environmental issues," she said.

"I will continue to advocate for approaches and outcomes that reflect New Zealand’s interests and values, including on human rights. I also intend to raise New Zealand’s concerns about key regional and global security challenges, including the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

China is New Zealand's largest trading partner with exports in the year ending December 2022 worth $21.39 billion and imports worth $18.93 billion.

Our second largest trading partner is Australia. Exports there were worth $13.85 billion and imports $15.37 billion.

Last year, an upgrade to the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement came into force.