China Foreign Minister Meets with New Zealand, Australia Officials on Trade

16 February 2017

The past fortnight has seen ministerial-level meetings in Canberra and Auckland on trade, as China’s foreign minister travelled to the Australian and New Zealand cities to discuss deepening trade ties with the two nations respectively, officials say.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid official visits to both countries from 7-10 February, following an invitation by Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her New Zealand counterpart Murray McCully.

Speaking to reporters prior to the trip, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said that “visiting Australia and New Zealand at the beginning of the Chinese New Year highlights the importance China gives to growing relations with these two countries.”

"We were setting the scene for a range of high level meetings and engagements," said McCully in comments to Reuters, in which he also described the importance of demonstrating “leadership” in the field of trade liberalisation.

For his part, Wang reportedly urged the two trading partners to continue working together to "protect the international trade system, build the open economy, and try to start upgrading the negotiation of the free trade agreement.”

Beijing and Wellington are currently working towards updating an existing free trade agreement (FTA), though official negotiations have not yet been launched. Officials confirmed that the planned FTA upgrade was one of the topics during the ministerial-level discussions, with formal talks expected to kick off in the coming months.

The plan to revamp the China-New Zealand FTA was announced last November on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in Peru. The original FTA dates back to 2008. (See Bridges Weekly, 24 November 2016)

Australia-China FTA: one year in

Wang also met last week with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to co-chair a “Foreign and Strategic Dialogue” between the two sides, covering issues ranging from trade to boosting cooperation in the use of low-carbon technologies.

Australia and China also have an FTA in place, which entered into force in December 2015. Both officials said that they hope to build on their trading relationship going forward, including in terms of the existing FTA framework. (See Bridges Weekly, 22 October 2015)

“At a time of economic transition and uncertainty around the world, Australia reassures China that we are a reliable partner and that we will continue to place a strong trade and economic relationship as one of our highest priorities," Bishop told reporters following the meeting, according to a transcript released by her office.

“Our economies are highly complementary and already there have been significant benefits for both countries under the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement which has just celebrated its first anniversary – on 20 December last year,” the Australian foreign minister added.

Furthermore, she noted that both officials are looking at facilitating the FTA’s progress going forward into its future implementation phases.

Wang similarly affirmed the value of deeper trade cooperation, both in terms of reaping the benefits from the bilateral trade accord as well as on the wider international stage in pushing against protectionist pressures.

“We speak highly of the notable results that we have achieved in the implementation of the China-Australia FTA in the past year and we have agreed to transform and upgrade our economic relations and cooperation so that we can shift faster from mining underpinned prosperity to a more diversified and more sustainable pattern of cooperation so that we can open up this new phase of FTA-driven prosperity,” said the Chinese foreign minister.

Australia, China, and New Zealand are also all participants in the 16-country Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) talks, which will be holding their next round later this month in Japan. The planned trade deal includes the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its six FTA partners.

Both Wang and Bishop said that they are hoping to see progress in these Asia-Pacific trade talks going forward, with the Chinese foreign minister referring to the goal of reaching “an early agreement” that could help support deeper regional integration on trade.

ICTSD reporting; “China, New Zealand pledge support for free trade to counter global protectionism,” REUTERS, 10 February 2017; “Australia's relationship with China 'could not be stronger', Bishop says,” SBS NEWS, 8 February 2017; “Chinese foreign minister to visit Australia in wake of Trump tiff,” SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST, 4 February 2017; “China, New Zealand pledge to support for free trade,” THE BUSINESS TIMES, 10 February 2017.

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