US, New Zealand Officials Look to Deepen Trade Ties

22 June 2017

US and New Zealand officials are exploring options to deepen bilateral trade ties, with the possibility of formal trade talks being floated.

New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay met with US trade officials, including US Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer and US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, during his trip to the North American nation last week.

While details about the specifics of their discussions were limited, both parties released statements about the continued trade relationship between New Zealand and the United States.

In an interview with Politico, McClay said that there are “countries of the world that are looking to do deals with each other that a year or two ago may not have been.” Furthermore, in an official statement, he said that Wellington welcomes Washington’s “interest in an FTA as a demonstration of the good shape our trading relationship is in.”

The New Zealand government announced earlier this year an objective that would have 90 percent of goods exported by 2030 to be covered by FTAs. Currently, just over half are covered, therefore the country has been looking for partners to develop additional free trade deals. The US is New Zealand’s third largest trading partner.

The office of the USTR also published a press release that emphasised the US’ commitment to working with New Zealand and building an “even stronger, mutually-beneficial trade relationship and working together to ensure fair, transparent access to markets around the world.”

Furthermore, Lighthizer said in the press release that the US continues to be committed to “engagement in the Pacific region for free and fair trade.”

Officials say that bilateral ties between the two sides will continue to develop, though whether these efforts might lead to formal trade negotiations remains to be seen. The current US administration has said that it will prioritise the negotiation of bilateral trade deals going forward.

TPP-11 meetings ahead

The US withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) early this year, under the administration of new US President Donald Trump. The TPP also includes New Zealand, along with 10 other countries. (See Bridges Weekly, 9 February 2017).

Since withdrawing from the TPP, the Trump administration has repeatedly stated that it wants to maintain a strong trade presence in Asia, and may seek bilateral trade agreements with some countries in the region instead.

Meanwhile, the remaining eleven countries in the TPP are currently undergoing discussions on how to move forward. At a meeting last month in Hanoi, trade ministers from the TPP-11 released a joint statement confirming that they are actively exploring options to bring the agreement into force, and are due to announce the results of this assessment in November. Additional talks are planned in July on the subject. (See Bridges Weekly, 24 May 2017).

New Zealand has repeatedly expressed a “strong commitment to continuing with the TPP” in recent months, despite the US’ decision to withdraw. Wellington officials have met throughout the year with their TPP-11 counterparts individually and in group form to explore various options. (See Bridges Weekly, 9 February 2017 and 23 February 2017).

New Zealand has already ratified the agreement, even as the TPP-11 debate on whether to ratify the current agreement or renegotiate it continues.

ICTSD reporting; “NZ optimistic of free trade deal with US,” NEWS HUB, 18 June 2017; “New Zealand optimistic about free trade deal with US,” REUTERS, 18 June 2017; “Trade Minister gets an early appointment with the new US Trade Representative,” NEW ZEALAND HERALD, 13 June 2017; “Politico Morning Trade,” POLITICO, 19 June 2017; “Government wants Free Trade Agreements to cover 90 percent of exports,” STUFF.CO.NZ, 24 March 2017. 

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