Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has poured cold water over claims her Deputy Prime Minister is jeopardising New Zealand’s chances of a free trade agreement with the EU.
On Monday, National’s spokesman for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Todd McClay, suggested that the push by Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters for a trade deal with Russia, as well as comments he made over the weekend, have worried EU officials.
In an interview with The Nation, Peters said the Government is “deadly serious” about a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Russia.
He says under the Key-led Government, National was “boasting” about getting an FTA with Russia.
“Then, all of a sudden on the golf course of Hawaii, the whole thing collapsed. Why would that be?” he asked.
“And the EU, who thanked us for what we did, then started attacking our agricultural markets. Let’s be honest here – we’re going to go into these conversations from here on in with our eyes wide open as to the fact, and not pulling our punches. We might get a fairer deal.”
McClay says Peters’ comments have muddied the water for the EU and suggested the 28-nation bloc will be having reservations about getting an FTA with New Zealand across the line because of his stance on relations with Russia.
In fact, McClay suggests the commitment to an FTA with Russia has already hindered getting a trade deal across the line with the EU.
“The EU commissioner was due to come here last year to launch the FTA with New Zealand. She didn’t come. At the same time, its ambassador said that the EU was very concerned about signals being sent from the New Zealand Government.”
He challenged the Prime Minister to explain exactly what the Government’s position is.
No issues here, PM says
Ardern was quick to rubbish McClay’s comments at her weekly post-cabinet press conference.
“We are prioritising the EU FTA and there is a good reason for that – we are seeking a mandate this year to proceed with that negotiation and are very hopeful about that.”
Two-way trade between New Zealand and the EU is roughly $20 billion a year, whereas it’s just half a billion with Russia.
“What the Deputy Prime Minister has pointed out is that while [Russian] sanctions have been in place, there have been other countries within Europe who have traded around those sanctions and have been able to do so.”
She says there are a number of non-tariff barriers between New Zealand and Russia that the Government is looking to overcome to “make sure New Zealand is treated fairly and in the same way that others who have been trading around the sanctions are being treated.
Getting a free trade agreement with Russia is in the Labour/New Zealand First Coalition agreement but Ms Ardern has previously said a trade deal with the EU is top of New Zealand’s agenda.