PARIS, France — New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday pushed for a "progressive" free-trade agreement with the European Union in the coming months, while saying British ideas about turning the Commonwealth into a trading platform were a "longer run aspiration".
"I believe an EU-New Zealand FTA presents an opportunity to conclude an agreement that is a model for progressive and inclusive trade," Ardern said after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.
New Zealand mainly exports agricultural products to the bloc, which could agree as early as May to open negotiations having decided to fast-track the process last year.
Both Ardern and Macron said the talks would take into account environmental and social concerns while being "mutually beneficial".
"Some of the concerns being raised domestically in New Zealand will be similar to the ones raised in France," Ardern said in reference to potential resistance from French and European farmers.
"Our goal is a model that will demonstrate to the public that we want to deliver free-trade agreements that can benefit and be prosperous for both our citizens."
Ardern said she would pursue an EU deal along with separate trade talks with Britain, which is leaving the European Union next March and is seeking to negotiate its own agreements.
"It’s really a matter of sequencing," Ardern said in an interview at the end of the French leg of her Europe tour which will see her travel to Berlin and London. "For us, we would see both as being incredibly important."
Britain accounts for about one third of the 15 billion dollars of annual trade between the EU and New Zealand, Ardern said.
The British government is hoping a summit of leaders from the 53 members of the Commonwealth on Thursday and Friday, which Ardern will attend, will boost business with its historic partners.
The Commonwealth has been touted by some leading proponents of Brexit as an alternative trading network for Britain as it strikes out on its own outside the EU.
"There is a platform in the future to be built on around trade. ... but that’s a longer run aspiration," she said.
Ardern said that the Commonwealth summit could be "a response to the current international environment."
"We should be seeking opportunities for multilateral agreements that operate under a rules-based framework that push back on ideas of protectionism because it does not serve small states," she said.
Macron also backed a free-trade deal with New Zealand on Monday, but insisted it would take into account new conditions set by him for all future agreements.
"Future trade accords... must be coherent with our political engagements and will be coherent with the social model we defend in Europe, our goal of acceptable social standards and responsibilities, and environmental commitments," he said.
"What our farmers won’t understand is that we negotiate with nations who don’t have the same health or environmental standards," he said.
"I believe that what we are setting out with New Zealand is the right response to this, and I think this accord can be reached," he said. — AFP