Clark talks China FTA at Apec

New Zealand Herald

Clark talks China FTA at Apec

21 November 2005

BUSAN - Free trade talks with China are "going very well" but will run on into next year, Prime Minister Helen Clark said after meeting Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Apec summit in Busan, South Korea, at the weekend.

Officials confirmed there had been some delays because both sides were stretched by the number of trade talks on the agenda.

Some had hoped when the talks started a year ago they would be near completion by now, but Clark said that was too optimistic to fulfil New Zealand’s desire of a comprehensive trade deal.

"We are about to head into what I think will be the fifth round of negotiations, but I never thought they would be quick and I never put artificial time lines on it.

"A year would have been far too quick. We would not have got a good and ambitious agreement in that time. It will go into next year."

China has already completed a trade deal with Chile, but little detail is available.

Clark said New Zealand and Chile were not comparable as Chile was not a developed OECD country.

China was negotiating a host of trade deals and while New Zealand was the first developed nation off the rank, others were not far behind.

Clark suggested that China was being careful with New Zealand because the deal could have implications for its other trade talks.

"It is not that New Zealand was threatening to China’s economy but they are conscious that they are setting precedents that others might want to follow."

Foreign Minister Winston Peters’ political party - New Zealand First - is opposed to a free trade deal with China and Peters said before the Apec meeting he wanted to raise his concerns about what he said was a $2 billion trade deficit with China.

Asked if Peters’ role as foreign minister would make any difference to the talks, Clark replied: "None at all."

She also said she was hopeful the summit had rekindled some hope for global trade liberalisation.

Apec leaders from the 21 Pacific rim nations agreed on a joint approach on World Trade Organisation talks, counter-terrorism, avian flu and disaster management. The joint statement on trade fails to apportion blame for the widespread belief the WTO free trade talks will end in failure at the next ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December.

But Clark was in no doubt.

"It is a very clear message to Europe ... that market access for agriculture is the issue now."

After a few days of marathon flights from New Zealand to Dublin to Busan and then home, Clark sets out again this week for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta and then Europe.

Clark said she would personally carry Apec’s message to the European Union.

The summit leaders agreed to work more closely against terrorism and to share information about disaster and pandemic planning.

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