OPINION: Former NZ agriculture and trade minister, and ex-High Commissioner to the UK, Lockwood Smith, was the only non-UK member of the UK Trade & Agriculture Commission (TAC), which was tasked by Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, to look at finding a way forward of Britain supporting trade liberalisation, while ensuring UK standards are not undermined.
However, he warns if the present government is unable to do such a deal it would be a massive failure on its part.
During his recent trip to Europe and the UK, Trade and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor made great play of the fact that NZ and the UK had pledged to reach an agreement in principle on an FTA by the end of August. However, O'Connor also warned that it may take several months to get such an agreement ratified.
Smith says the Tade and Agriculture Commission (TAC), an advisory body on agricultural trade to the UK Department of International Trade, has done a lot of work getting all the farmer organisations in the UK to agree to unrestricted access for agricultural products from trading partners that can meet equivalent standards to theirs. He says this is not about having identical regulations to the UK, but equivalent standards in terms of animal welfare, the environment, climatte change and ethical trade.
"Of course, NZ does meet those standards," he told Rural News.
According to Smith, there is a fundamental agreement that NZ should get direct access to the UK market.
"Things like digital services and legal services. That should be opened up because NZ has such a protected legal system," he told Rural News.
"The UK also wants better access around overseas investment. Why wouldn't they and we need foreign investment. The Australiana have already got access over a period of time and NZ is actually in a better position to get a better agreement."
Smith says he has huge confidence in the man leading the trade negotiations, MFAT's deputy secretary, Vangelis Vitalis.
"He is a very capable trade negotiator. As long as the Government doesn't tie his hands too much, he should be able to get the UK FTA because the deal is there to be had."
EU Tougher Ask
Getting an FTA from the EU that would match that of the UK is problematic, according to Sir Lockwood.
He says the EU is a different kettle of fish. He hopes that NZ can get free access to the EU, but he would be surprised if that happened.
Smith points to the EU dealing with a group of South American countries under the umbrella name of MERCOSUR will hinder the chances of a quality FTA with Europe. He says the EU's recent deal with Canada gave that nation greater access for its agricultural products.
"So, the EU is struggling a bit on this whole issue of agricultural access and the first offer to NZ was risible, to say the least. But they also want to be able to be seen to do trade agreements and a trade agreement should be had,” he told Rural News. “After all, NZ is one of only six developed countries in the world that doesn’t have an agreement with the EU, which is incredible.”
Smith agrees that negotiating an FTA is much harder now that it was in the 1970s and ‘80s when the EU had fewer members. He says the fact the EU has 27 members changes the dynamics of the negotiations.
He says when the Canadian agreement was reached by the EU Commission, the deal had to be ratified by each of the 278 member states and in some cases regional governments within these countries also insisted on certain specific conditions in the agreement.
“So that does make it harder, but NZ has done a lot of preparatory work in trying to achieve a trade agreement with the EU and we will get one. But it just won’t be as good as the one we will get with the UK.”