Improving access to China for exports of New Zealand wood and paper products are among key areas of focus for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in her talks in Beijing next Monday.
Briefing media ahead of her lightning dash to the capital of the country’s largest trading partner, Ardern said progressing the upgrade of the 11-year-old free trade agreement with China was among priorities in her meetings with China’s two most powerful leaders, President Xi Xinping and Premier Le Keqiang.
She indicated the most productive focus was likely to be on areas where there was not already a phased reduction in barriers to access.
“There are areas on a phased approach that continue to improve over time,” she said. Dairy products, accounting for one-third of all New Zealand exports to China, are among those covered by tariff and quota reductions through the early part of the next decade.
“So it’s focusing on those areas that may be in addition to that.
“Wood and paper are the kinds of things being debated.”
Forestry exports are the second largest source of exports to China, accounting for 23 percent of the $13.9 billion of total exports to China in 2018.
Ardern said she had had “quite specific discussions with Li in the past and that may happen again”. She will lunch with the Premier on the one-day trip, which was cut from a three-city state visit after the Christchurch mosque attacks on March 15.
Trade Minister David Parker will pick up the slack, leading a trade delegation to China later in April. He will also attend an international forum on China’s strategic economic and political initiative known as the Belt and Road.
While the previous government had a Memorandum of Arrangement supporting the initiative, “the challenge for us has been determining between China and New Zealand the areas we might expect to see areas of cooperation”.
Also on the agenda is likely to be New Zealand’s decision to join other nations late last year in accusing Chinese government agencies of coordinated cyber attacks and the decision by the Government Communications Security Bureau’s decision not to allow equipment from Chinese telecommunications provider Huawei to be included in the country’s 5G, next generation internet infrastructure.
Asked whether she would raise the cyber attacks, Ardern said she hadn’t “finalised everything I intend to raise.
“Keeping in mind that we’ve been very clear that foreign interference is an issue that we haven’t just individually raised.”
With the government’s coalition partner, New Zealand First, expressing alarm at the sale of the Westland Milk cooperative to Chinese dairy company Yili, Ardern said the government was looking for “foreign direct investment that contributes to a productive economy … and that includes from China”.
With the eyes of the Muslim world on Ardern’s response to the Christchurch mosque attacks, she said she would reassert New Zealand’s consistently expressed concern about the treatment of China’s Uighur Muslim minority, which is the subject of a massive security surveillance and ‘re-education’ programme as Beijing seeks to shut down the potential for domestic Islamic terrorism.