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Genuine interest in EU trade deal: MFAT

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 9/02/2017

There has been a "decided lack of enthusiasm" from some within the European Union for a free trade deal with New Zealand in the past, but trade bosses believe that has changed.

New Zealand trades more than any other EU partner in product lines that are "extremely sensitive" to the EU, including sheep meat and butter, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade chief executive Brook Barrington says.

"Some member states, who are significant agricultural producers themselves, have shown over many years a decided lack of enthusiasm for an FTA with New Zealand," he told a select committee annual review of his department on Thursday.

Questioned by NZ First MP Fletcher Tabuteau as to whether that had changed, Mr Barrington pointed to the eagerness of EU leaders toward an agreement during meetings with Prime Minsiter Bill English last month as evidence that attitudes were changing, at least at that level.

During Mr English's visit to Brussels European Council President Donald Tusk revealed he hoped trade negotiations could be launched in Europe by the end of this year and that a deal could be in place in two to three years, relatively quickly in EU terms.

German chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in a joint conference that she would push the EU toward a quick trade accord with New Zealand.

But Mr Barrington has not said it will be easy.

"I certainly would not be ruling out the reality that interest groups on the ground will continue to make this a challenging process and our negotiators will have to be absolutely on their game," he said.

Chief negotiator David Walker, who moves to Geneva next week to head the New Zealand delegation to the World Trade Organisation, said New Zealand's trading arrangements with other countries were making the country look more appealing to EU members.

He believes there's now "genuine two-way interest" to look at faster free trade negotiations, with New Zealand becoming an "attractive prospect" in part because of the rapid growing Asian region.

Earlier Mr Barrington praised former prime minister Helen Clark's bid to become United Nations Secretary General, saying while she was unsuccessful her campaign had helped to further raise New Zealand's profile on the world stage.

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