"Many, many years" before Free Trade Agreement with Britain

: <p>Trade Minister Todd McClay with Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs (Germany) at an EU meeting last year.</p>
 

Suggestions that New Zealand might soon be able to enter into a free trade agreement with Britain appear premature.

Instead, the Government's immediate focus will be on continuing its negotiations over a free trade agreement with the European Union.

However, British High Commissioner Jonathan Sinclair has warned earlier in the year that Britain was New Zealand biggest supporter in trying to achieve that.

So whether that will make any difference remains to be seen.

Trade Minister Todd McClay told POLITIK last night it could be “many, many years” before New Zealand would be able to complete a bilateral deal with Britain.

He believes the negotiations between Britain and the EU will be a lengthy process.

“Conservatively it’s years and years before anything significant probably happens,” he said.

That’s because of the sheer enormity of the trade negotiation task the country now faces would mean that new agreements will have to wait.

The BBC quoted one British MP yesterday suggesting that withdrawal from the EU would involve at least 70 pieces of legislation; the French newspaper, Le Figaro, has raised questions about telephone roaming agreements and air rights across the EU for British airlines.

Britain has 100 business investment treaties with various EU members.

Mr McClay said that Britain would have to get a new passport, and even the movement of pets would require new agreements.

And Britain has joined many international institutions and agreements through the EU rather than as a separate nation.

Given that British exports to New Zealand account for less than one per cent of its total export trade, the country’s chance of getting being given an early priority would seem slim.

Mr McClay said he doubted that trade relations with New Zealand would be on the top of anyone’s agenda in Brussels or London this week.

But he said he had received assurances that the current trading relationship continues and as far as the Free Trade Agreement is concerned he had an assurance that the desire to negotiate it remained.

He would be seeing the European Trade Commissioner at the G20 meeting in Shanghai in a fortnight July, to discuss New Zealand’s best way forward, in light of the referendum result.

“I don’t expect a significant slippage in timing given that we are looking for a launch during next year," he said.

However although our trade with the remaining 27 members of the U is worth $7 billion while our trade with Britain is $3.5 billion, he said both were important relationships, and we would continue to protect and if possible increase the trade with Britain.

Other political reaction to the Brexit has been muted with only NZ First Leader, Winston Peters, who campaigned for the Leave campaign suggesting that New Zealand should be lobbying for a Commonwealth Free Trade Agreement.

Mr Peters probably feels hearted by what he will undoubtedly see as an anti-globalisation vote in Britain, but Mr McClay is not so sure it was.

He said there had been parts of the UK that had always been uncomfortable with the EU.

For the immediate future though, the concerns would be the economy and global movements there.

But he said we had proved that we could survive the GFC, and he believed we were well placed to withstand any shocks that might occur in global markets. 

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