National Business Review, 6 April 2006
NZ-China FTA in two years
By Political Correspondent Marie McNicholas
New Zealand is on track to become the first Western country to clinch a free trade agreement with China after the leaders of both countries set a goal to secure such a deal within one to two years.
Negotiations will now be stepped up to reach the target, while the leadership of both countries will make bi-lateral talks on general matters an annual fixture, Premier Wen Jiabao and Prime Minister Helen Clark announced today after holding talks in the Beehive.
Speaking through an interpreter, Mr Wen told a news conference of mainly Chinese media at Parliament that the negotiations had reached a crucial stage.
The two governments would now be paying greater attention and give more support to the process, he said, with the negotiations to be handled by more senior officials.
"And if the two of us work harder I believe it is possible it will be wrapped up in less than two years’ time," he said.
The negotiations had encountered some difficulties in the agricultural and service areas but these were not insurmountable.
"There are difficulties but they might be a blessing in disguise," he said, adding that as long as the two sides acted in the spirit of equality and mutual trust and accommodation they could overcome the difficulties.
Miss Clark said Mr Wen had come with a positive message for New Zealand.
"We have confirmed in our discussion that we are both looking for a comprehensive, high-quality agreement acceptable to both sides," she said.
They could see their way to moving towards conclusion of FTA talks in one to two years, she said.