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 aspirations of 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 told AFP 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.
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
“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.
Ardern, 37, became prime minister last October after a whirlwind rise and then surprised the nation again in January by announcing she was set to become a mum for the first time.
Since then, the Pacific nation has been fascinated by the arrival of the baby while the PM has emerged as a role model for working mothers.
Ardern joked Monday that sore feet and being “a little slow going upstairs” were her only worries as she began a European tour while seven months pregnant.
“The early stages were probably the most difficult because I had such bad morning sickness and at that point no one even knew,” Ardern told AFP in Paris.
“It hasn't changed my approach to my work. I'm a little slow going up stairs but I'd say that's about the end of it,” she told AFP.
But a day of meetings about trade and security at the French presidential palace with leader Emmanuel Macron and a speech at Sciences Po university had also taken its toll.
“There's no doubt my feet hurt a bit more, but it's not impacting on my ability to do the job,” she smiled after apologising for wearing socks but no shoes during an interview.