Thursday, 30 June 2022 07:55

Editorial: Europe, can you hear us?

Written by  Staff Reporters
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

OPINION: Once again there's a flurry of activity as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Minister of Trade Damien O'Connor and a band of dedicated officials and leading agricultural representatives fly into Brussels where the powerful European Union is based.

The prize they are seeking is what is called a 'quality, comprehensive and ambitious free trade agreement (FTA)' - in other words, a bloody good trade deal for us.

Sadly, while many EU politicians talk about free trade and its importance, the political reality is different. Farmers in the EU hold great sway and the politicians are beholden to them electorally. The farmers' vote is powerful and protectionism is in their DNA.

We shouldn't be surprised at what is happening now. This is déjà vu. The same thing happened 40 years ago; Different politicians - Muldoon (former PM Robert Muldoon) and Talboys (former senior minister Sir Brian Talboys), but the same issues and arguments and a stubbornness on the part of the EU to yield meaningful access to NZ's agricultural exports. Only this time it is much harder because the EEC, as it was then, has grown exponentially and now the EU has 27 members. And, oh yes, we don't have the UK at the table batting for us.

Our trade negotiators are among the best in the world and our politicians of all colours over the years have done a good job to get us this far. The reality is any FTA with the EU was never going to be as good as the recent FTA with Britain. But the pressure is on because the Europeans take their summer break in a few days time and the aim of NZ is to get a 'deal in principle' before then.

This is where Jacinda Ardern comes into play: Like or dislike her, she has a high positive international profile and this is exemplified by her recent one-on-one meeting with President Joe Biden. In Brussels she will meet with Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission - the top person in the EU.

The word is that the pair will click because they share similar values and will get on personally. If this is the case, it may add that little bit of extra leverage to making a deal that is not necessarily great, but liveable; A deal that will lead to other FTAs and much needed access for the high quality exports of our primary sector.

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