Chinese premier Li Keqiang to visit amid concerns over direction of world trade
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will arrive in New Zealand on Sunday for an official visit likely to centre on trade issues, including an upgrade of the nine year old free trade deal between the two countries.
Former prime minister John Key announced last November, during the Apec summit in Peru, that talks would begin on upgrading the 2008 free trade deal (FTA) with China.
The first round of negotiation was due to start in the first half of 2017 and the process was expected to take a year.
Li's visit comes at a crucial stage following the United States pulling out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and a focus across the Asia Pacific region on what free trade deals are now possible.
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The joint China-New Zealand statement in Peru noted that as participants in the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the two countries "reiterated their commitment to work towards the swift conclusion of the RCEP negotiations".
Prime Minister Bill English is due to outline New Zealand's trade strategy on Friday in a speech in Auckland.
On Monday English said despite opposition from some parties in Parliament, trade deals remained a priority for his government.
"The Government knows that if we open doors to new markets our businesses will walk through those doors and take the opportunities."
New Zealand has pressed hard for an upgrade to the China FTA, in particular for dairy exports under the deal.
But there are trade tensions between the two countries over allegations China is dumping cheap steel into the New Zealand market.
The claim is being investigated by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, despite fears we could provoke trade reprisals.
China has made it clear it is unhappy about the dumping allegations making coded warnings of possible trade reprisals.
Announcing the visit, English said he and Premier Li would hold official talks in Wellington, and meet business leaders in Auckland during his visit, which ends on March 29.
"The visit is an important opportunity to set the agenda for the next stage of our strong relationship and demonstrates our shared commitment to open trade and economic growth," he said.
The visit marks the 45th year of diplomatic relations between China and New Zealand, and comes three years after China and New Zealand declared a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership during a visit to New Zealand by President Xi Jinping.
English's statement stressed the strong economic and trade links between the two countries.
He said China was New Zealand's second-largest trading partner, its biggest market for export goods, a fast growing service market and a "small but increasingly important source of foreign investment".
Two-way trade reached a new high of $23 billion in 2016, three times what it was before the 2008 FTA.
More than 400,000 Chinese tourists visited last year, spending over $1.6 billion. Nearly 35,000 Chinese students are studying here.
Li will be accompanied by his wife, Professor Cheng Hong, as well as a business delegation.