New Zealand is among the first group of countries to sign agreements with the United Kingdom to ensure it is business as usual for New Zealand exporters in the immediate aftermath of Brexit.
The signing of the Veterinary Agreement and Mutual Recognition Agreement on Conformity Assessment Bodies mean current trade-facilitating pacts covering products exported into the European Union are maintained with the UK.
In other words, no matter how Brexit ultimately unfolds, New Zealand products will be treated the same in the UK as they are in the European Union.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says ensuring the existing rules stay in place means New Zealand won’t be left worse off straight after Brexit.
Australia signed a similar deal with the UK on Friday. The Press Association reports that all up the UK is planning to sign agreements with 36 countries.
The UK is New Zealand's sixth largest export market. The value of New Zealand exports to the UK was $2.97 billion in 2017.
Government relations consultant and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise director, Charles Finny, says the signing of the agreements is a “very positive thing,” but their significance has been overstated in some media reports.
Finny, who led negotiations for the New Zealand/China free trade agreement, says: “It still doesn’t resolve the potential uncertainty that would be caused by a hard Brexit.
“For example, what will the tariffs rate be that we pay when going into the UK, will there be lots of delays at the border, and what’s going to happen to the quota arrangements that we have for a number of our key exports [IE meat and dairy] to the EU?”
Finny accepts there’s only so much New Zealand can do while the UK gets its house in order ahead of Brexit. The UK is due to leave the EU on March 29.
“I know that there are pre-negotiations going on all the time, but we can’t formally negotiate anything on those issues that I’ve raised… because the UK isn’t allowed to negotiate on them because they’re still part of the EU,” he says.
Accordingly, Ardern says that during her hour-long meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, the two countries’ commitment to negotiating a free trade agreement (when the UK is in a position to do so), was “reaffirmed," however no progress on negotiations was made.
Finnny hopes the meetings Ardern is having with the likes of May and other UK and EU officials during her trip will put New Zealand at the front of the line when the time is right for free trade agreement negotiations to ramp up.
Ardern also welcomes the UK’s interest in possibly joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“We very much value our relationship with the UK. It is our longest-standing relationship, and still one of our closest,” Ardern says.
“The clear message we imparted to the Prime Minister May today was, whatever the outcome of the Brexit process, we will have an enduring relationship with the UK across trade and the full range of interactions our two countries share."