24 Jul 2017

NZ 'front of queue' for UK trade deal

8:56 pm on 24 July 2017

New Zealand is "at or near the very front of the queue" for a free trade deal with the United Kingdom once Brexit is complete.

Boris Johnson at the Pukeahu war memorial in Wellington.

Boris Johnson at the Pukeahu war memorial in Wellington. Photo: Pool / Marty Melville

UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson made the comments in Wellington at the end of his first day of an official two-day visit to the country.

Mr Johnson said he'd been discussing the prospect of a "great" bilateral trade deal with New Zealand government members.

"I can certainly tell you that New Zealand is at or near the very front of the queue."

He insisted the UK was not turning inwards since deciding to leave the European Union.

"We're turning out. We want to engage with the world in a way we haven't been able to do for 43 years.

"And we want to engage above all with our old friends and partners like New Zealand."

EU rules dictate the UK cannot sign trade deals with other countries until it has formally left the bloc. That's not expected until at least March 2019.

NZ's Trade Minister Todd McClay has previously expressed confidence a deal could be struck reasonably quickly after that.

Mr Johnson will meet Prime Minister Bill English and Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee tomorrow morning.

At his post-Cabinet press conference this afternoon, Mr English said he expected a "wide-ranging and interesting" discussion.

He said both countries had signalled a strong interest in a trade deal and he would be advocating for "an early start" for New Zealand.

"We aren't as economically significant as other [countries], but we're easier to deal with.

"If the UK needs to be able to establish early its ability to do free trade agreements, then New Zealand is a candidate for that."

Mr English said he would also raise the government's "on-going interest" in improving New Zealanders' rights to live and work in Britain.

But he acknowledged the UK was likely to have higher priorities in the short-term.

"We've got to be realistic about the position Britain is in as it embarks, just in the last few weeks, on its negotiations with the European Union."

Mr Johnson this afternoon said the UK already offered a "pretty good visa arrangement" for New Zealanders.

But he suggested Britain could "look at" introducing some sort of special visa for Commonwealth countries.

"I don't want to overpromise at this stage, but clearly it's our ambition to attract people of talent.

"We want to establish a regime for New Zealand that is as free and as open as we can possibly make it."