|British & New Zealand Prime Ministers: Theresa May & Bill English (photo: AP)|
Published by Press Association
The Prime Minister said, after a working lunch with her New Zealand counterpart Bill English at Downing Street, that the two countries agree on the potential for a “bold” new trading relationship after Brexit.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox will visit the Commonwealth nation in the coming months to begin a bilateral dialogue between the two nations with the ultimate aim of striking a trade deal.
The small Oceanic country of less than five million people is believed to be seen in Government circles as one of the best prospects for an early trade deal once Britain quits the EU.
It is also one of the global "five eyes" partners who share their security intelligence with the UK, along with the US, Canada and Australia.
Speaking at a press conference alongside Mr English, Mrs May said the two countries have a "strong and growing" trading relationship worth more than £3 billion a year.
Britain is also the second largest foreign investor in New Zealand and its fifth largest bilateral trading partner, she said.
Mrs May went on: "As two island nations we know that trade is essential to the prosperity of our countries and so it’s natural that we share a firm, deep-rooted belief in the power of free trade and open markets to drive economic progress and the importance of ensuring the benefits of growth are shared widely and fairly
"While the UK remains in the EU we will work together to support an EU-New Zealand trade deal and we will also look to the future and how we can expand our trade and investment partnership.
"Through our new bilateral trade dialogue, we will push for greater global trade liberalisation and reform, share expertise, and identify ways to strengthen our own trade relationship".
Mr English said he wanted to see a trade deal concluded "as soon as possible" after Brexit, and his country was the "ideal partner" for the UK to demonstrate its ability to secure a high-quality agreement.
Asked how soon a deal could be reached, the New Zealand premier said: "With respect to the trade agreement, we would hope that we could negotiate as soon as possible after the exit is completed.
Leaked documents of the UK's #Brexit plan include a "prosperity zone" with #Canada #Australia & #NewZealand:https://t.co/zM7N2MFlBo— The CFMO (@theCFMO) December 7, 2016
Mrs May added: "New Zealand is an important country for us precisely because of the historic ties that we share, the shared values that we have, the shared belief in free trade that we have. I think it’s natural that we would look to a partner like New Zealand. Of course we will be negotiating a free trade agreement but we will be looking to get an agreement that is going to work for both sides."
Mrs May’s comments appear to suggest that Britain will leave the EU customs union after Brexit so it can strike trade deals with other countries outside the tariff-free zone.
Mr English said New Zealand stands ready to strike a "comprehensive" free trade deal.