New Zealand will be one of the first movers to negotiate a post-Brexit trade position with the United Kingdom, Trade Minister Todd McClay says.
Speaking to Farmers Weekly at the end of a week of meetings in Brussels concerning the launch of NZ’s formal free-trade agreement negotiations with the European Union, McClay said NZ would remain good friends with both the EU and the UK throughout the expected two years of the Brexit process.
“We have a long-standing relationship with the UK, as we have with the EU, and will be working very hard to balance these interests over the next few years,” he said.
“We’ve made it very clear to the EU that an FTA will be a prized development for NZ but so is our relationship with the UK.
“I have therefore said to Liam Fox (the UK government’s Brexit trade minister) that when the UK is legally able to take on obligations and is ready to do so, we would want to negotiate with them too.
“I would expect, in fact, that we would be one of a small group of countries that would be first movers in negotiating with the UK.
“While what happens following the triggering of Article 50 and the two-year period of negotiations that will follow is very much an issue for the EU and UK alone, we’ll remain good friends to both and support both to the largest degree.”
McClay’s comments followed a series of meetings in Brussels where he joined Prime Minister Bill English in talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and EC trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom.
“The talks have gone extremely well,” McClay said, adding that they followed more than two years of preparatory work during which he’d engaged extensively both with the EC as a whole and with a number of EU member states.
“I’ve personally had bilateral meetings with 21 of the 28 member states during that time and we’ve always been very well received.”
McClay believed Juncker’s two to three year timetable for concluding an FTA was optimistic but achievable provided both parties took a pragmatic approach to the coming negotiations.
“Both NZ and the EU will have issues of importance to discuss during the negotiations and that there will be sensitivities to be addressed,” he said.
“Agriculture will certainly be one of these areas.
“We have NZ companies, for example, that have invested heavily in the processing of agricultural and food products in Europe.
“While there are always issues which are difficult in any negotiation, the very best place to deal with these issues is as part of the negotiation process itself.
“It is my hope, therefore, that both the EU and NZ will take a pragmatic and proactive approach to the negotiation and that we will, as a result, deliver outcomes that are good for industries on both sides.”