The virtual Free Trade Agreement upgrade signing ceremony with Wang Wentao in Beijing and Damien O'Connor in the Beehive. .

New Zealand Trade Minister Damien O’Connor yesterday finally got to sign the upgrade to the New Zealand – China Free Trade Agreement negotiated in 2019.

Because of Covid-19, it was a virtual signing ceremony with O’Connor in the Beehive and China’s Minister of Commerce, Wang Wentao, in Beijing.

The carefully orchestrated and scripted ceremony saw both Ministers simultaneously hold the agreement up for the cameras once they had signed.

It was clear from comments from Wang that the New Zealand – China relationship, at least on trade, has had no setbacks in comparison with  Australia whose willingness to go along with the Trump administration’s policy of confrontation with China has cost it severely on the trade front.

We just witnessed another milestone in our trade and economic cooperation,” he said.

“We have also had in-depth exchanges.

“I’d be more than happy to maintain working relations with you and to jointly break new ground in trade and economic relations between China and New Zealand.”

In a statement issued to media, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said key outcomes of the upgrade included new rules that would make exporting to China easier and reduce compliance costs for New Zealand exports, a better deal for our services exporters through expanded market access and most-favoured-nation commitments, and the introduction of environmental considerations – “the most ambitious trade and environment chapter and the highest level of commitment that China has agreed in any FTA.”

POLITIK Trade Minister Damien O’Connor with the actual China Free Trade Agreement Upgrade document.

Just what China has got in return is a bit more opaque.

But the state newspaper, “Global Times”, reporting on the signing said New Zealand would raise the job quota for Chinese teachers and Chinese tourist guides by 100 per cent to 300 and 200.

“In addition, New Zealand will relax the review threshold for Chinese investment, making sure that Chinese investment enjoy the same treatment as members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership,” it said.

In May 2019, when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited Beijing and met with President Xi Jinjiang, he talked about the need for trust in the relationship.

Chinese journalists were briefed by their Government on the talks between Ardern and Xi and also her lunch with Premier Li Keqiang and reported that investment had been discussed in Ardern’s meetings.

The “Chinese Daily” with its access to official Chinese sources said: “President Xi Jinping called on New Zealand to provide a fair and unbiased business environment for Chinese investors.”

And the “Global  Times” reported that in her talks with Premier Li Keqiang, he too had “urged both countries to provide a fair investment environment for companies .”

The paper went on to report Li as calling for a hastening of negotiations on the updated Free Trade Agreement.

There was a suggestion that China was unwilling to move on relaxing tariffs and quotas for New Zealand dairy products if New Zealand did not make concessions on foreign investment.

This was a complex negotiation,” O’Connor said yesterday.

“We didn’t trade one thing off against another.

“It’s a complex area.”

But New Zealand can live without any relaxation of tariffs and quotas on dairy products because under the original Free Trade Agreement they end in 2024 anyway.

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