New Zealand PM says exporters could suffer due to U.S.-China trade tensions

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reacts during a joint news conference with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels, Belgium January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday that trade tensions between the U.S. and China, which is New Zealand’s top trading partner, could affect exporters in the country and hurt its economy.

Ardern told business and industry leaders that countries pursuing increasingly protectionist policies were affecting confidence and investment plans.

“And the worry for us is that further reductions in Chinese exports could cause a material slowdown in its economy, with adverse effects for New Zealand exporters,” she said.

President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping were unlikely to meet by an early March deadline set by the two countries for reaching a trade deal, two U.S. administration officials said.

China is New Zealand’s single-biggest export market, according to government data. Its sales goods and services to China were worth NZ$16.6 billion ($11.21 billion) in the year ended September 2018 - more than neighboring Australia and almost double the corresponding figure to the United States.

Ardern said New Zealand will have plans in place to tackle global economic headwinds, adding that the risk of a no-deal Brexit in March was another looming concern. “While we are doing our best to create a buffer ... a no-deal Brexit could still do harm to EU economies or disrupt financial markets.”

She said a top trade priority this year was to conclude an EU free trade deal and the launch of trade talks with Britain. “We need to be realistic that if the global economy slows, it will affect our economic growth,” Ardern said.

Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by John Stonestreet