Trade and Export Growth Minister, Damien O’Connor, has announced details of his UK and EU visit this week, where he will hold trade and agriculture discussions to further New Zealand’s economic recovery from COVID-19.
He said the visit will add political weight to ongoing negotiations on free trade agreements with New Zealand.
The trip marks the first international travel by a NZ Minister since February 2020, when the pandemic hit.
Mr O’Connor (pictured) will be accompanied by MFAT Deputy Secretary and Chief Negotiator for the EU-NZ FTA, Vangelis Vitalis.
New Zealand’s Dublin-based Chief Negotiator for the UK-NZ FTA, Brad Burgess, will also join the Minister for the London leg of the trip. Mr Burgess is currently serving as New Zealand’s Ambassador to Ireland.
“Virtual engagements have served us very well over the last year, but I’m very much looking forward to face to face engagement,” Minister O’Connor said.
“Being able to meet with my counterparts – albeit socially distanced – will help us move towards concluding high quality, comprehensive and inclusive FTAs.”
In London, he is scheduled to meet with his trade counterpart, Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss.
He is also expected to meet with Minister of State in the Cabinet Office, Lord Frost, to discuss New Zealand’s trade access interests post-Brexit.
As Minister of Agriculture, he will meet with George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Minister is also expected to have engagements with industry representatives and New Zealand stakeholders in the UK, relevant to both his agriculture and trade portfolios.
“New Zealand enjoys a uniquely close bond with the UK through our shared history,” said Mr O’Connor.
“The relationship is underpinned by wide family, cultural, business and sporting linkages. I can’t think of a stronger foundation on which to build a great free trade agreement.
“I see a quality FTA with the UK, negotiated in line with Government’s ‘Trade for All’ agenda, as galvanising these ties through trade and investment.”
Mr O’Connor said the priority in Brussels will be adding further momentum to the EU-New Zealand FTA negotiations.
“I’m really looking forward to sitting down with key figures in the European Commission at this important stage in our FTA talks, notably my Trade Commissioner counterpart, Valdis Dombrovskis, and Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski.”
While in Brussels, the Minister is also expected to meet with key Parliamentary and industry representatives, as well as the Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sophie Wilmès.
“The EU and New Zealand are strong partners and good friends. It is a real anomaly that we don’t already have a free trade agreement with a partner with whom we share so many values and interests.”
In Paris, Mr O’Connor is scheduled to meet with his counterpart, Frank Riester, Minister for Foreign Trade and Economic Attractiveness.
“The New Zealand – France relationship has gone from strength to strength under this Government, not least with our successful joint leadership in recent times of the Christchurch Call.”
“In Paris, I will be reinforcing the case for the EU-NZ FTA with one of our most important partners in Europe. There is no better partner for France than New Zealand with respect to trade and sustainable development and an FTA will be in both our strategic as well as long term, diversified economic interests.”
On his way to Europe, the Minister will stop in Singapore for meetings with Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Trade and Industry, as well as Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, in support of New Zealand’s export-led recovery from COVID-19.
“The short visit to Singapore provides the opportunity to engage with one of our most trusted, reliable, and long-standing partners in the region. We share many areas of interest, including APEC 2021, which New Zealand is currently hosting.”
In all locations, the Minister will comply with host government COVID-19 restrictions and testing requirements. He will also undertake 14 days of MIQ upon return to New Zealand in late June.
The Minister and his small travelling delegation have been vaccinated for COVID-19 prior to the trip.
“COVID-19 is teaching us all a lesson in the value of relationships and international cooperation. You only have to look at vaccine supply chains to see just how interconnected our collective fortunes are. Trade is a positive and stabilising force for the world,” Mr O’Connor said.