O’Connor (like the Black Caps) will deserve a victory parade if he can secure a trade deal with the UK that outscores Australia’s

The  government  has  been  beating  the drum on the  prospects  for  a  free  trade  deal with the United Kingdom, which it claims  is part  of the wider work  it is undertaking to support New Zealand’s economic recovery from Covid-19.

Following  Trade Minister Damien O’Connor’s sessions  with UK Trade Secretary Truss in London to push along the bilateral negotiation, officials’ teams will spend the coming weeks finalising FTA details with the aim of reaching agreement in principle in August.

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta told Parliament NZ  is working to achieve a high quality comprehensive trade deal.

“Our priority is a deal that delivers benefits for all New Zealanders. That includes seeking elimination on all tariffs over commercially meaningful time frames, and that takes account of our ambition across the agricultural sector”.

Mahuta reckons  after five rounds of virtual engagement, there was real value in O’Connor visiting London in person.  He  succeeded  in getting the focus   back  on key issues and to speed  up progress.

The visit also allowed him to speak to farm leaders face to face about how both agricultural sectors stand to benefit from the agreement.

“Moving towards an agreement in principle with the UK in August will confirm the parameters of the FTA and represent a significant step towards conclusion. We’re committed to making swift progress, but our number one priority is to secure an agreement that delivers benefits for all New Zealanders”, Mahuta  said.

She said NZ exporters face  significant barriers in the UK, which make it hard for them to compete with other exporters  Restrictive quotas – for example – apply to  dairy and meat exports, and tariffs make other NZ products, including   wine, apples and honey, more expensive for consumers in the UK.

 “This agreement will deepen NZ’s economic ties with the UK. We’re seeking to secure ambitious and inclusive outcomes in the coming months, including through NZ’s proposed chapter dedicated to advancing Māori interests. The FTA will help address this. It is also an opportunity to lead on sustainable trade and put our Trade for All Agenda into action”.

Quite  what  those “Maori interests” are, how  they differ  from  the interests  of other  New Zealanders, and why they should be accorded special  treatment in an agreement is  far from clear.

But  certainly  NZ  farmers  will  be hoping  the NZ negotiators  will be  able to  match, and perhaps improve  on, the terms  their Australian  counterparts  can expect  following  the progress  Australian  PM  Scott Morrison  announced  after  his  talks  with  Boris  Johnson  in  London.

NZ,  as  Mahuta  was  saying  earlier this  month,  badly  needs  to  diversify  its  markets, given its  rising  dependence  on  China, which  currently  absorbs  30%  of  NZ exports.

NZ  may  never get  back  to the  volumes  it  used to pump  into the  UK  market, pre-1973,  but there  is  no  doubt  its  dairy  products would be  highly  competitive there.  Just  listen  to the clamour  of UK  producers,  (who  became accustomed  to  heavy  EU subsidies). They have  been  shouting  for their  markets to  be protected  against  NZ  imports.

It  is  the  test  of  O’Connor  and  his  team of  officials  in  the  negotiation  to achieve  real  free  trade  in  these  products, especially  for  the specialised  products  Fonterra  has  developed.

As  Point of  Order  sees  it, the  real  coup  for  O’Connor would be to secure  superior  terms  to  those the  Australians secured.

Apparently  Australia   has  won  a zero-tariff  regime  for  dairy  products phased  in  over five  years. Britain  is   still  one of the world’s  largest  importers  of  dairy  products.

Similar  open access  for  meat  products  is  another   key  goal    for  NZ.   Other  issues  in  the negotiation are   foreign investment provisions, and  professional digital  services access.

NZ   has  few  bargaining  chips to  offer  in  the  trade  negotiation,   but it  can  offer  its  full  backing  to the  UK  as  it seeks to  join the  much broader  Pacific trading  bloc in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

So  can  Damien  O’Connor,  a  politician  whose achievements   so  far  have  been relatively  modest  in  his  term with  the  Ardern  government,  surprise  his  countrymen  with  a  trade  deal  that  matches, or even surpasses, Australia’s?   That  would call  for a  victory parade like  that  to  be  accorded  NZ’s  world  champion  cricketers.

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