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Key's China trip reaps rewards

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 22/04/2016
John Key with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. © Getty Images John Key with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Foreign forays by prime ministers can be fraught with problems but John Key's trip to China didn't turn out that way says NZ Newswire's political writer Peter Wilson.

Calling John Key's trip to China an unqualified success would be pushing it but no one would blame him for coming home with a smile on his face.

As prime ministerial foreign ventures go, this one was better than most.

They can be fraught with problems and difficult negotiations.

They can be cursed by scandals at home, usually started by opposition parties.

There can be little or nothing to show for them, but Key's four days in Beijing, Xi'an and Shanghai delivered.

Key's easy access to China's leaders was again on display, he held talks with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

His main purpose, identified before he left, was to discuss an upgrade of what Key describes as the "spectacularly successful" free trade agreement signed with China in 2008.

Key said before he went into the talks he didn't expect firm assurances, and he didn't get any.

"I didn't expect to come here and for them to say `yes, we're definitely doing it'," he said.

"In terms of a formal renegotiation of the FTA, I think that's possible but there's more work to be done."

That's about as good as it usually gets with trade negotiations, and back home the glacial processes don't generate a vast amount of interest.

Trade Minister Todd McClay will take over the more work that's to be done and he'll do it quietly.

China raised the issue of an extradition treaty with New Zealand, it wants to be able to nab corrupt officials who have fled the country with embezzled funds.

It's a worldwide fox hunt, as China describes it, and it's believed up to 60 of those it seeks are in New Zealand.

Key's problem is that China executes criminals, so he had to tread a fine line.

"I think it's possible, we're certainly not opposed," he said after his talks.

"Clearly, people would need to meet the conditions."

The conditions are that anyone extradited to China wouldn't be tortured or executed.

Amnesty International and others said he'd have no way of knowing what happened to them.

Key wants to know what the Law Commission thinks about it before there's any further consideration.

So that's in the same basket as an upgraded FTA - long-term and maybe never.

With those issues out the way, Key was free to deliver the good news.

He met Jack Ma, China's richest man (reported net worth: $50 billion) and signed a deal that gives New Zealand businesses access to Ma's online retail sites.

Those sites include Alibaba and are said to have 700 million customers.

Ma is coming to New Zealand to check out worthwhile products and says he'd like to buy some land.

Winston Peters hasn't picked up on that yet.

Key announced a deal that gives New Zealand's chilled meat exporters access to China's vast market.

It's something the industry has been trying to get for years and Key said the first consignments could be on the way within a couple of months.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, standing alongside Key, said it meant New Zealand's premier products would be on the tables in upmarket Beijing and Shanghai restaurants.

It was the second meat deal of the trip, earlier Key had overseen the signing of an agreement involving the Alliance Group which allows it to send more sheepmeat and venison into China.

And, just before he left, Key announced that 10,000 Amway China representatives would visit Queenstown in 2018 as a reward for their good work.

That's going to be worth more than $50 million, and Queenstown businesses were thrilled.

It grabbed media attention just the way Key would have wanted, and at the right time.

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