As New Zealand's prime minister visits China from March 31 to April 1, one issue at the top of the agenda is the two nations' efforts to upgrade their bilateral free trade agreement. The countries wrapped up their latest round of negotiations in November.
Signed in 2008, it was the first free trade agreement (FTA) that China signed with a developed country. For New Zealand, China has surpassed Australia as its biggest trading partner.
When visiting New Zealand in 2017, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stressed the importance of upgrading the deal. "The China-New Zealand free trade agreement is the highest-level agreement between China and developed economies," Li said.
The FTA was signed in April 2008 in Beijing after 15 rounds of talks and came into force in October that year. The two sides decided to upgrade their trade deals after witnessing a triple increase in trade value in late 2016. So far, they have finished their 6th round of talks.
The upgrade is expected to cover services, e-commerce and the environment. To learn about what's motivating the upgrade, we talked with Zhang Jianping, director general at the regional cooperation center of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation in Beijing.
"China now has signed more than 20 bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements, Professor Zhang said. "Every FTA will need to chase new development and a new level after a few years, especially between China and some of the developed economies. In this regard, China and New Zealand also need to upgrade their bilateral FTA for trade liberalization and facilitation. Meanwhile, we also need to expand to new fields such as Fintech, e-commerce and environment."
Asked about the trend of trade protectionism in the global economy, Zhang Jianping believes this won't affect China-New Zealand trade talks.
"China has just passed the law to protect foreign investors' interests in many areas. I think it will prompt the two sides to talk in details on this. Also, New Zealand has expressed its support for China's Belt and Road Initiative. And if you look at APEC cooperation platform, you will find that the two countries have kept very good cooperation over the years," Zhang added.
Official statistics from New Zealand show bilateral trade volume in commodities reached over 1.4 billion U.S. dollars in January, an increase of 4.4 percent year on year. Data indicates China has had deficits in both trade and investment with New Zealand over the years. But Beijing continues to keep its doors wide open to not just New Zealand, but the whole world.