'No evidence' Russia shot down plane, meddled in US election - Peters

Foreign Minister Winston Peters has defended efforts to get New Zealand a free trade deal with Russia, saying there's "no evidence" it was involved in the shooting down of a passenger jet in 2014.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, with 298 fatalities. A Dutch-led investigation determined a Russian-made missile fired from pro-Russian rebel territory was to blame.

"It was a former Russian missile, true - but who was responsible for setting it off?" Mr Peters asked Newshub Nation host Lisa Owen.

"They didn't find… that the instigator of that atrocity was doing it at behest of the Russian government."

He also questioned widely accepted claims Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election.  

"We have a lot of allegations, but we do not have the facts laid out clearly," said Mr Peters.

"When you start talking about those moral judgements, you might not be trading with anybody very quickly. A lot of countries we deal with would not survive a serious human rights issue, or gender equality issue or an ethnic issue debate - but we still trade with them."

Mr Peters said trading with Russia was comparable to trading with Australia, even though it's deporting New Zealand-born criminals to a country many of them haven't called home for decades.

"This is wrong, but we trade with Australia because we hope one day to vastly improve the circumstances."

Trade between Russia and New Zealand was $762 million in 2014, according to the latest figures on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's website.

Trump's tariffs 'not old-fashioned'

Mr Peters also said New Zealand has "a chance" of being exempted from US President Donald Trump's new tariffs on steel and aluminium.

He wasn't aware if the Government has formally asked to be exempt yet, saying that was up to Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

Mr Trump's move will see 25 percent tariffs on foreign steel and 10 percent on aluminium, as a protectionist measure to save Americans' jobs.

But rather than oppose the move as detrimental to free trade, Mr Peters said Mr Trump was reacting to unfair deals.

"What's Donald Trump's biggest complaint? It's that countries shouting out 'free trade for America' don't practise free trade themselves. In fact it's New Zealand First's and my complaint that the countries we deal with apply tariffs against us whilst we're giving them total and unfettered access to our country. It's simply not fair."

He said Mr Trump's move was "not Luddite, it's not old-fashioned".

"It happens to be an economic fact which some propagandists of the free market tenet should face up to, and describe why it's not fair for Donald Trump to do what he's doing.

"That said, we believe in free trade - but we believe in fair trade, even-handed trade for the advancement of the mass majority of people on this Earth."