28 Sep 2021

Trade minister finalises trip to US and Europe

7:15 pm on 28 September 2021

Trade Minister Damien O'Connor will leave on Thursday on a trip to the US and Europe to advance New Zealand's trade and economic interests with key partners.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor visits Canterbury to assess damage after days of flooding and heavy rain.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor visits Canterbury to assess damage after days of flooding and heavy rain. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

O'Connor's engagements will include representing New Zealand at the G20 Trade Ministers' Meeting in Italy.

The trip follows recent talks between Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen to progress a free trade agreement with the European Union (EU-NZ FTA).

Ardern has further upcoming bi-lateral conversations with country leaders from within the EU.

During the visit to Europe, O'Connor will be travelling to Sweden, France, Ireland and Italy, where he will meet with counterparts to discuss closer co-operation.

He will also be travelling in his capacity as agricultural minister.

Following O'Connor's visit to Belgium in June, a further meeting has been scheduled in Brussels with Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commission's executive vice-president and trade commissioner.

The EU is New Zealand's fourth largest trading partner with two-way goods and services trade at over $15 billion per year.

"An FTA with the EU will also provide a more level playing field for New Zealand exporters, contribute to New Zealand's Covid-19 recovery, and help build a more resilient export profile," O'Connor said in a statement this evening.

"These meetings will also provide an important opportunity to build momentum and seek consensus ahead of the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in November," he added.

O'Connor will be accompanied by Ministry of Foreign Affairs trade deputy secretary and chief negotiator for the EU-NZ FTA Vangelis Vitalis.

Alongside bilateral engagements in France, O'Connor will participate in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Ministerial Council Meeting in Paris, from 5-6 October.

US stop-off first

En route to Europe, O'Connor will stop off and hold a series of meetings at the end of the week in Washington, DC, including with the US trade representative Katherine Tai.

It will be the first visit by a New Zealand Minister to the US since the start of the pandemic.

"The United States is New Zealand's third largest trading partner, a key source of high-quality investment and one of our most important international partners," O'Connor said.

"In Washington, I will be talking to US counterparts about how we can work together to keep our bilateral trade and economic relationship on its current growth trajectory.

"This visit will also be a chance to exchange views on multilateral trade issues in the lead up to the MC12, our objectives for APEC, and to discuss our shared interest in making trade more inclusive and sustainable," O'Connor said.

The minister and his delegation will return to New Zealand on 15 October and complete 14 days of MIQ.

United States' chargé d'affaires to New Zealand Kevin Covert this afternoon posted on social media celebrating a meeting with O'Connor "on the eve of his visit to Washington DC".

O'Connor subsequently told reporters the details had not yet been finalised and in some cases needed to be confirmed with the countries he would be visiting.

"There have been a huge number of meetings done," he told media earlier today.

"With a lot of trade negotiations it comes down to some really tricky issues. Last time I visited we were able to progress a number of those issues, we're back into that situation now and we believe that it's necessary to go and travel."

There were a lot of dynamics involved, he said, but he had spoken to the UK's new trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan and was optimistic.

"She's very focused, she's aware of the details and I think she wanted to see a free trade aggreement with a traditional, reliable and trusted partner."

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