The European Union’s top-ranking diplomat has talked up greater cooperation with New Zealand during a flying visit to the country, saying the EU is a reliable partner in an increasingly unstable environment.

The Tuesday visit of Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, comes as the EU and New Zealand forge closer ties in a world of growing uncertainty.

Launching consultation on the Government’s Trade for All agenda – a name ripped directly from the EU’s own trade policy – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said FTA talks with the EU would act as a “test case” for a more sustainable and inclusive trade deal.

We are also “stretching our footprint in Europe”, as Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters described it, with the opening of embassies in Dublin and Stockholm.

Mogherini said her one-day trip, part of a wider Asia-Pacific tour, made her the first EU High Representative to visit here, but the fourth member of the European Commission to visit in “an exceptional year” for bilateral relations.

“With the European Union, you know what you get, and I believe that in times of uncertainty, in times of turbulence, this is appreciated.”

Holding discussions with Ardern, Peters and Defence Minister Ron Mark, she said the EU and New Zealand were “natural partners” in their approach to the international system, upholding principles such as democracy, human rights, and free and fair trade.

Mogherini dodged a chance to condemn Donald Trump when asked whether uncertainty about the United States’ role on the world stage was behind the EU’s increased prominence, although she noted that it provided “a reliable, predictable, solid partner”.

“With the European Union, you know what you get, and I believe that in times of uncertainty, in times of turbulence, this is appreciated.”

Building ties between New Zealand and the EU was valuable not only for the two partners, but “for the rest of the world to recognise there is a network of like-minded countries that uphold an international agenda based on rules”, Mogherini said.

She said the EU and New Zealand had agreed to cooperate more closely on “non-traditional” security issues such as cybersecurity and maritime security, as well as in the Pacific – a hotly contested region as China and others seek greater influence.

Iran deal

The EU and New Zealand were also on the same page when it came to “the need to preserve and maintain the nuclear deal with Iran, notwithstanding the withdrawal of the US”, Mogherini said.

On Tuesday, the EU adopted countermeasures against a US decision to reimpose sanctions on companies doing business with Iran, in the form of a “blocking statute” which bans EU businesses from complying with the US sanctions and allowing affected companies to recover damages.

Mogherini said the statute was about protecting the EU’s “trade sovereignty”, as well as preserving the original intent of the Iran nuclear deal which was to provide the country with an economic advantage if it adhered to nuclear commitments.

“We are doing our best to keep Iran in the deal, to keep Iran benefiting from the economic benefits that the agreement brings to the people of Iran, because we believe this is in the security interests of not only our region, but the world.”

Kiwi exporters have expressed fears about being caught out by the US sanctions, and Export NZ executive director Catherine Beard told Newsroom many would be reluctant to invest in the country due to the lack of stability.

“We need to ensure the denuclearisation of Iran by ensuring the economic pillar is maintained in the interests of the Iranian economy.”

“If businesses have been burnt, they tend to be reluctant to go back.”

However, Beard was sceptical about whether blocking legislation similar to the EU’s would help Kiwi exporters seeking to avoid sanctions, while businesses would prioritise trade with the US over Iran if the pressure came on.

Peters said the New Zealand backed the EU’s stance on the Iran deal, adding: “We need to ensure the denuclearisation of Iran by ensuring the economic pillar is maintained in the interests of the Iranian economy.”

However, he was cagier on whether the Government would follow it in implementing any sanction-blocking legislation, saying only New Zealand was considering how to deal with the banking issues as set out by Mogherini.

North Korea

Mogherini said denuclearisation talks in North Korea were also an area where we could work together with the EU.

Interestingly, Peters and Mogherini were the only Western diplomats to meet North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Singapore last week.

Mogherini said the two partners shared the same sense of urgency when it came to supporting denuclearisation talks, as well as reconciliation discussions between the North and the South.

“I believe we share the need for a peaceful resolution of the situation, New Zealand has a very solid and consolidated position when it comes to nuclear-related issues, and we have discussed ways in which we can accompany this process.”

North Korea’s talks with the US on denuclearisation, and the inter-Korean talks, would benefit from a multilateral framework which the EU and New Zealand could be involved in.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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