New Zealand’s (NZ) trade minister met last week with his Chinese counterpart to finalise details around an “upgrade” to its free trade agreement (FTA), which will come into effect on April 7.
NZ’s Damien O’Connor said it was a “significant step” for the FTA, which was signed originally in 2008—and was the first FTA between Beijing and a developed country.
“Our trade agenda has very good momentum, with our primary industry exports forecast to hit a record $50 billion (US$33.45 billion) this year alone,” O’Connor said in a statement.
“Goods and services exports between China and New Zealand reached $20.1 billion in the year ending June 2021,” he said. “This upgrade modernises the original 2008 New Zealand-China FTA to ensure it remains fit for purpose.”
The upgrade was signed-off almost one year prior in late January.
The agreement is slated to give exporters even more access to the Chinese market, including tariff-free access for 99 percent of NZ’s $4 billion wood and paper trade to China. It will also include new chapters in the fields of e-commerce trade, competition policy, government procurement, and the environment.
“Separately, from 1 January 2022, most New Zealand dairy products to China are entitled to duty-free access for the first time as a result of ongoing implementation of the existing FTA,” the trade minister said, noting that removing the taxes would save businesses $180 million per annum at current export volumes.
Beijing’s Commerce Minister Wang Wentao said both parties would work towards promoting bilateral trade relations to benefit the China-NZ comprehensive strategic partnership.
Ratification of the new deal comes as the NZ government attempts to walk a delicate balance between its trade interests with China, and ongoing concerns regarding Beijing-backed foreign interference and increasing belligerence on the world stage.
Neighbouring Australia—who, like NZ, has China as its biggest trade partner—has borne the brunt of a wide-ranging trade war instigated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) after the Morrison government called for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
Exports of barley, coal, cotton, hay, logs, meat, wine, and rock lobsters were hit with arbitrary border testing and inspections, tariffs, unwarranted delays in listings, and the issuing of import licenses.
In response, NZ Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has cautioned exporters of the need to diversify trade.
“We’ve got to legitimately ask ourselves—it may only be a matter of time before the storm gets closer to us,” she said in an interview with the Guardian in May 2021.
“The signal I’m sending to exporters is that they need to think about diversification in this context—COVID-19, broadening relationships across our region, and the buffering aspects of if something significant happened with China. Would they be able to withstand the impact?”