New Zealand ‘won’t choose sides’ between US and China on trade

Comments from trade minister come as Premier Li Keqiang arrives in Wellington

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 4:56pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 4:56pm

New Zealand said on Sunday it did not plan to “choose sides” on trade between the United States and China, as Premier Li Keqiang arrived for a visit focused on the issue.

New Zealand in 2008 became the first developed nation to sign a free trade agreement with Beijing and China is now the country’s second-largest commercial partner, with two-way trade worth NZ$23 billion (US$16.2 billion) last year.

Both sides agreed late last year to upgrade the deal, and Li’s visit is seen as a way to speed up negotiations.

New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay said closer ties with Beijing need not affect relations with Washington, which withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) regional trade deal after US President Donald Trump took office.

The pull-out has jeopardised the future of the TPP, which would have included New Zealand but excluded China.

China is pushing a rival pact known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which would include New Zealand.

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“No, we don’t have to choose sides,” McClay told TVNZ.

“Wherever there is an agreement or an opportunity that delivers a greater fairness for New Zealanders in the US or China ... then New Zealand will look at that.”

Li, who has just wrapped up a trade mission to Australia, will hold talks with Prime Minister Bill English in Wellington on Monday.

He will meet business leaders in Auckland on Tuesday before departing early on Wednesday.