The Herald reports:
European Union leaders have talked up the prospects of a free trade agreement, saying it would send a strong political signal as protectionism takes hold elsewhere. They have even suggested it could be completed within three years.
Bill English arrived in Brussels today on his first official overseas trip as Prime Minister.
After meeting English, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said they expected formal negotiations for the long-awaited free trade agreement between the EU and New Zealand to begin soon.
Tusk said it would further strengthen relations and made an apparent reference to the election of US President Donald Trump, the Brexit vote in the UK and the rise of Marine Le Pen’s Front National party in the looming presidential elections in France.
“Such an agreement would not only boost sustainable economic growth, investment and job creation on both sides, it would also send a strong political signal of economic openness and trade at a time of protectionist pressures are on the rise not only on our own continent but also round the world.”
Juncker also said he was “very eager” to conclude a trade agreement, but pointed to “difficulties” within the EU and globally.
“At least we are hopeful we will be able to make the progress we need. There are remaining difficulties, but we will solve these problems, like others, because New Zealand is a very strong ally of the European Union and we want to continue in that vein.
Despite that, Juncker was optimistic a New Zealand-EU deal could be finalised in three years – half the time it usually took and less than a third of the 10 years it took for Canada. He said it usually took between 5-10 years.
That would be amazing if it could be done in three years.