30 Oct 2015

Talks underway for EU-NZ free trade pact

5:04 pm on 30 October 2015

Securing a free trade deal with the European Union has inched closer with the government wanting to begin formal negotiations as soon as possible.

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Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Prime Minister John Key met with top European officials in Brussels, and they have jointly agreed to lay the groundwork for a deal.

There has never been one overall, comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union, which has a population of over 500 million people.

However, the EU was already New Zealand's third biggest trading partner, with two-way trade worth more than $19 billion.

Mr Key said the announcement was a critical first step, but the Green Party has warned the government needed to be much more open with the public about the negotiations.

New Zealand and the European Union announced overnight that they had agreed to start discussions on a comprehensive free trade agreement.

The announcement came after Mr Key met European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Trusk in Brussels.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said the Government had to ensure it was much more open about these negotiations than it had been about the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.

But he acknowledged the EU had a good record on keeping the public informed about its trade negotiations.

"Actually, New Zealanders will probably trust the Europeans to have higher standards than we do. So in some ways that that may allay some of the concerns we had about the TPP."

Labour spokesperson trade and export growth David Parker agreed with Mr Shaw that the talks around the deal were likely to be more transparent than TPP negotiations.

The deal went beyond trade, he said.

"I met with one of their trade representatives in the last couple of weeks and they think that countries that have got a good record in the world on human rights, on the environment, should be co-operating with each other and trying to bring good in the world."

Any negotiations with the EU were likely to be far more transparent than those that occurred with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Mr Parker said.

Mr Key said starting negotiations was a first significant step in expanding New Zealand's trade and economic links with the EU.

Two-way trade between the two already totalled $19 billion.

Mr Key said a deal with Europe would build on other trade agreements negotiated over the past few years, including the TPP agreement.

Mr Shaw said the Greens would have to wait to see what was in the proposed agreement, but he was hopeful the EU would demand tougher labour, environmental and human rights standards than what was included in New Zealand's existing deals.