July 21st, 2010
John Key has swept through Korea, China and Vietnam with a mix of buoyant optimism, ambition for NZ and some tough talking along the way. Key flew home this week after intense top-level meetings in all three countries focused on trade and building multi-lateral relationships. In Seoul Key met President Lee Myung-bak, talking for 90 minutes almost exclusively about FTA negotiations which had run into trouble over agriculture. Key appears to have kick started the stalled negotiations, saying agriculture is now “back on the table” and an FTA is “within touching distance.”
But an FTA without agriculture won’t be acceptable to NZ and there are more hard yards ahead when Trade Minister Tim Groser picks up the negotiations with his Korean counterpart in a few weeks. Key says “we’re not arguing about our desire to complete a deal…we’re debating what the terms of that deal might look like.” Emphasising the advantages of an FTA, Zespri chairman John Loughlin says it would save kiwifruit growers $34m a year. Korea’s tariff, at 45%, is the highest in the world while main competitor Chile already has an FTA. Chile pays a tariff at 16.5% which is reducing each year and reaches zero in 2014.
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When Key reached Hanoi he went into talks with Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and President Nguyen Minh Triet on the 35th anniversary of diplomatic relations, aiming to strengthen ties through trade and aid. Key says he’s “as confident as he can be” Vietnam will remain a partner in the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations which NZ is a part of. “All the signs are positive but this is a very difficult negotiation.” Key was also seeking support for NZ’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2015/16 and says “with a bit of luck we will get through.”
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