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PM welcomes May's trade deal enthusiasm

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 13/01/2017 By Lloyd Jones

Prime Minister Bill English has met his British counterpart Theresa May in London and welcomed her "real enthusiasm" for getting on with a free trade deal with New Zealand.

But he's warned that agriculture, as always, will be a sticking point and while the two nations' close ties should underpin a good trade deal he says it won't guarantee New Zealand will get everything it wants.

No NZ-UK deal can be done until Britain formally leaves the European Union after a two-year unhooking process.

"We're a credible partner for the UK to be able to demonstrate to the rest of the world that when they leave Europe they can do high-quality, comprehensive trade deals," Mr English told reporters on Friday after meeting Mrs May.

"We're making a pitch and they're responding very positively," he said.

"We weren't seeking assurances about the type of deal but it was good to hear from her the real enthusiasm for getting on and doing a deal with New Zealand."

Mr English said Mrs May was "playing her cards pretty close to her chest" as to whether it would be a hard or soft Brexit, which would hinge on negotiations between the UK and Europe.

"What's in our interest is they get through that process in a way that's not too disruptive, both of these are very significant trading partners for us."

Mr English said it was difficult to say what kind of free trade deal New Zealand and the UK could do until the end of Brexit.

"Agriculture will be a sticking point, it is the sticking point in every negotiation that we do and the reason for that is we have such an efficient agricultural sector, it's one of our comparative advantages."

But the prime minister said New Zealand had a diverse export portfolio and a trade agreement would have to deal with a wide range of issues.

He said the close ties between the UK and New Zealand should underpin getting a good deal "but it doesn't guarantee we'll get everything that we want".

When asked about US President-elect Donald Trump's anti-free trade sentiments Mr English said he and Mrs May discussed their common advocacy of open markets and free trade to lift incomes and provide more jobs.

"When there is discussion, not just in the US but in other places, about more protectionism, those of us who are in favour of open economies and free trade advocate it."

Mr English said he raised the issue of Kiwis' rights being eroded in the UK in recent years but he recognised that migration into the UK was a core issue that Britain was working out with Europe.

"So we indicated that we'll continue to advocate for easier access for Kiwis, a lot of Kiwis want to come here, use their skills, experience the culture.

"But we wouldn't expect we would get engagement on it until they've dealt with the big issues," Mr English said.

"I don't think we should push Mrs May's goodwill too hard on it."

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