Trade, security on New Zealand PM’s 1st official trip agenda

Wellington: New Zealand’s new Prime Minister Bill English will visit three European capitals in January to shore up trade and security links, an official statement said.

English said on Thursday that his first overseas trip as the country’s Prime Minister would take him to Brussels, London and Berlin from January 9 to 18, Xinhua news agency reported.

“This is an opportunity to exchange views on a range of issues facing Europe and the world, and to reaffirm that New Zealand remains a committed friend and partner,” English said in the statement.

“The focus of my trip will be to advance New Zealand’s business and trade opportunities in the region, including starting the negotiations on an FTA (free trade agreement) with the European Union in 2017.”

In Brussels, English would meet with the three presidents of the EU — European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Parliament President Martin Schulz — as well as Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.

In London, English would meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

“I will be interested to hear Prime Minister May’s views on Brexit and will take the opportunity to reaffirm New Zealand’s commitment to working towards a high quality trade deal when Britain is in a position to negotiate,” English said.

In Berlin, he would meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble.

He would be accompanied by Trade Minister Todd McClay in Brussels and Foreign Minister Murray McCully in London and Berlin.

New Zealand’s ruling centre-right National Party selected English as its leader in December 2016, after the shock resignation of John Key, who had served eight years as the Prime Minister.