New Zealand optimistic about free trade deal with U.S.

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The United States has indicated it is open to a free trade agreement (FTA) with New Zealand, New Zealand’s trade minister said on Sunday.

FILE PHOTO: New Zealand's Trade Minister Todd McClay speaks with media during the 3rd Intersessional Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Ministerial Meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

Todd McClay visited Washington for high-level trade talks with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump this week, meeting with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, newly appointed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and other advisors to the president.

“I’ve welcomed their interest in an FTA as a demonstration of the good shape our trading relationship is in,” McClay said in a statement.

McClay said his center right government wants free-trade agreements to cover 90 percent of goods exported by 2030, up from just over half currently, and the U.S. will be an important part of achieving that.

Two-way trade between the two countries reached $16 billion in 2016, making the United States New Zealand’s third-largest individual trading partner, according to New Zealand’s ministry of foreign affairs and trade.

New Zealand’s $180 billion economy depends on exports, and the country lobbied hard in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Alongside Japan and Australia, New Zealand is trying to negotiate a deal with the 11 remaining countries of the TPP after the United States withdrew.

Trump dumped membership of the TPP as one of his first acts in an “America First” policy aiming at bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States.

He said he would seek one-on-one trade deals with countries that would allow the United States to quickly terminate them in 30 days “if somebody misbehaves.”

McClay said he had a constructive meeting with Lighthizer and said Ross indicated he saw no major impediments to a trade deal with his country.

Reporting by Harry Pearl; Editing by David Gregorio