“Let's just say things aren’t getting any clearer.”
Helen Smith’s comments come as a no-deal Brexit seems more likely with the prospect of Boris Johnson becoming the UK prime minister.
His hard-line ‘leave at any price approach’ has all but eliminated the chances of negotiating a compromise exit from the EU.
Smith says the headline message is that Brexit is an opportunity for the UK/NZ relationship.
“I have been in NZ four years and since the referendum there has been a real uptake in interest in strengthening the bilateral relationship between Britain and NZ,” she told Rural News.
“In particular, there is a big focus on the trade agenda and we have a commitment – at prime ministerial level on both sides – that once the UK is in a position to do so, it will proceed with a gold standard, high quality free trade agreement (FTA).”
Smith says the scope of the FTA agenda is huge and goes beyond trade. Climate change and sustainability are absolute priorities for the UK government and it hopes to work closely on these with NZ.
The UK stand at Fieldays had a delegation of 11 representing companies, universities and research institutions -- one already in a partnership with Massey University, Smith said. She sees opportunities for the two countries in agritech, broader technology and in the services sector.
“We want a very broad FTA covering not only goods but, obviously, agricultural goods, and I see a lot of scope for collaboration between our two sectors, rather than competition.”
Smith concedes that farmers in both the UK and NZ have concerns about how an FTA may impact on agricultural exports to Britain. With Brexit, UK farmers have concerns about the volume of NZ primary exports there, while NZ farmers fear that their access may be constrained.
She claims the access arrangements Britain and the EU have put to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – regarding sheepmeat access post Brexit – will mean the volumes going there now will remain unaltered. NZ farmers and trade officials hotly dispute this. They expect the split of tariff rate quotas (TRQs) as proposed by the EU and UK would be very damaging to NZ farmers.
And a lot of concern is voiced about the future of the WTO and whether its rules can be enforced. Smith believes the WTO will survive its current turmoil and when Britain leaves the EU it will have an independent voice at the WTO and be able to advocate for the freeing of trade barriers.
“There is a real opportunity to work together, amplify those messages and try to strengthen that institution even more,” she says.