China, New Zealand pledge support for free trade to counter global protectionism

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand and China will soon hold a series of high-level meetings and work to promote free trade, the countries’ governments said on Friday, amidst growing concerns about U.S. trade protectionism.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks during a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Beijing, China December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Greg Baker/Pool

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his New Zealand counterpart Murray McCully met in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, on Friday, a day after Wang met the Pacific nation’s prime minister, Bill English.

“We were setting the scene for a range of high level meetings and engagements,” McCully told Reuters in a phone interview on Friday.

He declined to say which leaders from the two countries were meeting or when they would meet.

However, he said the meetings would provide opportunities for investing in New Zealand.

“Other regions in the world in particular are starting to ask questions about the benefits of globalization and free trade,” McCully said.

“We are countries that have led the way in the (free trade) process and need to show leadership again in demonstrating...the benefits of continuing down this path,” he added.

The pair discussed the upgrade of the nations’ bilateral free trade agreement, China’s possible involvement in what remains of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations and New Zealand’s role in China’s One Belt, One Road strategy.

China’s Foreign Ministry cited Wang as saying he welcomed New Zealand to participate in the One Belt, One Road programme, by which Beijing has pledged billions of dollars to build a new Silk Road connecting China to Asia, Europe and beyond.

International focus has centered on China’s role as a steadying force in global affairs amid a turbulent start by new U.S. President Donald Trump, whose first weeks in office have been marked by media feuds and protests.

The New Zealand foreign minister said he told Wang that he would like to see China in TPP and they agreed this should be discussed further.

New Zealand and Australia have said that they hope to salvage the TPP by encouraging China and other Asian countries to join the trade pact after Trump kept an election pledge to abandon the accord.

Wang invited New Zealand to attend China’s One Belt, One Road summit in May and McCully said a New Zealand government minister, yet to be announced, would attend.

The two had agreed New Zealand should ensure the government’s 30-year infrastructure plan matched China’s One Belt, One Road strategy where possible.

New Zealand was the first Western country to sign a free trade agreement with China in 2008. China is now New Zealand’s largest goods export partner, with New Zealand exports to China at NZ$12.2 billion ($8.54 billion) in the year to June 2016.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Additional reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Michael Perry and Sam Holmes