British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said New Zealand would be near the front of the line for a free trade deal with Britain once the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.
“I can certainly tell you that New Zealand is at or near the very front of the queue,” he told media during a visit to the country.
“The whole point is that the UK is not turning in as a result of Brexit, we are turning out. We want to engage with the world again in a way that we haven’t been able to do for 43 years and we want to engage above all with our old friends and partners like New Zealand,” Mr Johnson said.
Britain cannot sign trade deals with third countries while it remains a member of the EU.
“We are leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe of course, and we are going to do we hope a great free trade deal with New Zealand.”
Mr Johnson’s talks with Prime Minister Bill English and Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee are expected to focus on agreements a post-Brexit Britain needs to replace those it is losing by leaving the EU.
Both sides will be keen to set the stage for negotiations, but any deals that emerge cannot take effect until Britain’s break with the EU is final which is at least two years away.
“Both governments have indicated a strong interest in a free trade agreement but we can’t begin that process until they’ve exited Europe,” Mr English said yesterday.
“We would want to encourage the view that if the UK needs to establish early its ability to negotiate FTAs, then New Zealand is a candidate for that.”
A more immediate issue is the right of young New Zealanders to live and work in the UK, but Mr English did not expect rapid movement on that either.
“We will indicate our ongoing interest in improving the right of New Zealanders to be able to work in the UK,” he said, “but I think we should be practical about our expectations. They have to deal with fairly big challenges in how they deal with citizenship and access rights in their exit from the EU.”
Mr Johnson was in Kaikoura yesterday, the first day of his visit, and thanked locals for their kindness looking after stranded Brits following the November earthquake.
He was impressed with the scenery, describing New Zealand as the most beautiful country he had seen.
“I think probably the only landscape that I can think of that could conceivably do justice to the imagination of J R R Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings.”
Mr Johnson laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior and attended a reception last evening.
After talks with Mr English and Mr Brownlee he will meet Labour leader Andrew Little and visit Zealandia wildlife sanctuary before leaving for Australia. NZN