Prime Minister John Key has used the first of several crucial meetings in the United States to stress that a free trade deal could be a win-win for both countries as US farmers step up their opposition.
Speaking after a meeting with US vice-president Joe Biden, Mr Key said he had reiterated that both countries stood to gain if the trans-Pacific Partnership agreement between countries including New Zealand, the US, Singapore, Chile, Australia, Vietnam and others goes through.
Talks are only at a fledgling stage but the US dairy industry is already gearing up to fight the inclusion of New Zealand dairy products in the deal and has won heavy weight support from a powerful bloc of US senators.
They say Fonterra has an unfair advantage and want dairy products excluded from any deal allowing favoured entry through US borders.
Mr Key, who had a 40 minute meeting with Mr Biden at the White House early this morning New Zealand time, said he had stressed that there were opportunities on both sides.
"In the end I think it's a compatible position for both countries to expand their trade relationship and for both of us to gain a larger share of world agriculture markets.
"We are going to see a world that demands a 50 per cent increase in food in the next 20 years. I don't think the issue is...who's going to supply that. It's keeping up with demand, as we see a growing middle class in Asia, growing demand for better quality food.
"... I don't think this is a situation where New Zealand or the US should be defensive. Because there's a huge opportunity for both of us."
Mr Key accepted there were challenges, "and I think we all acknowledge those. But I think we also recognise this is a great opportunity - and a great opportunity for the United States - to broaden out that agreement over time to other countries in the Asia-Pacific region."
KIWI TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN
Afghanistan and Iran also came up for discussion; in a statement after the meeting, Mr Biden said they had discussed how both contries could cooperate further on regional and global mattes and work closely together at the United Nations, including on issues such as Iran.
The US is struggling to win international support for a fresh round of hefty sanctions against Iran.
Mr Key said he and Mr Biden had talked about the phase out and exit strategy of New Zealand troops from Bamiyan Province in Afghanistan.
"It's not that New Zealand is somehow deserting its obligations in Bamiyan, it's well foreshadowed that part of the strategy on Afghanistan is to hand over responsibility and authority to the people of Afghanistan when they're in a position to be able to take up that responsibility and administer it in a way that makes sense," he told Radio New Zealand.
Mr Key said if you couldn't do that in Bamiyan by this stage, you couldn't do it in Afghanistan.
They had also spoken about the SAS, with Mr Biden thanking Mr Key for the input of the troops.
The nuclear security summit, which Mr Key is attending, was also discussed - Mr Biden considered that New Zealand could play "a real leadership role", Mr Key said.
"New Zealand brings a long, long history of showing leadership in this area, arguing that the world should be free of nuclear weapons and putting our best foot forward and our money where our mouth is, and I think from that perspective, sure we're a small country but we're not immune from risks like the rest of the world and we want to live in an environment where we're free of those nuclear weapons."
The summit is being hosted by US President Barack Obama and opens later today (New Zealand time) with a reception followed by a working dinner for more than 40 world leaders.
Earlier this week, former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer said it would be desireable if New Zealand and the United States solidified the renewed warmth in their relationship by resuming US military ship visits.
The visits could take place without breaching New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy, Sir Geoffrey said.
But Mr Key said today that was unlikely and neither country was seeking a move in that direction.
"We're certainly not going to be changing our anti-nuclear legislation, nor do I see the Americans changing their position about confirming or denying when it comes to nuclear capability of their military assets, and on that basis, while there's been enormous improvement in the relationship ... I think there's things which just aren't going to be resolved in a hurry," he told Radio New Zealand.
Mr Key said the range of topics discussed in the meeting showed the breadth of the relationship between the two countries.
"[Vice President Biden] really made the point of saying that New Zealand's relationship with the United States is at the highest point it has been for quite some time and I think it's a sign of the commitment that his administration has to New Zealand."
- with Stuff.co.nz and NZPA
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