Tuesday, 21 September 2021 11:55

Leaving on a jet plane - again!

Written by  Peter Burke
Export Growth, Trade and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor. Export Growth, Trade and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor.

Damien O'Connor is planning to head back to Europe again shortly to breathe oxygen into the free trade agreements that New Zealand is negotiating separately with the UK and the EU.

This will be the Minister for Export Growth and Trade and Agriculture's second trip to Europe this year.

O'Connor's visit will coincide with European politicians coming back from their summer break. He will visit key European Union capitals, as well as the headquarters of the EU in Brussels. There is also a rumour that he may stop off for talks in the United States. If so, O'Connor would become the first NZ politician to meet with officials of the new Biden administration.

There is also a suggestion that he will visit Ireland, where he has family connections. O'Connor's Irish links may help in some way to gain a friend at court in Europe, now that the UK is no longer part of the EU.

But there are no guarantees in the world of FTAs as a former trade minister and NZ High Commissioner to London, Sir Lockwood Smith, told Rural News several weeks ago. He described the EU as a totally different kettle of fish to Britain. Smith believes the EU is struggling a bit on the whole issue of agricultural access and says the first offer to NZ was "risible".

O'Connor and the NZ negotiating team face challenges with the EU given that any FTA requires the approval of all 27 member states.

On the slightly more positive side, he may be looking to finalise a FTA with the UK or at least get an agreement in principle for a FTA. After O'Connor's first trip to Europe this year, there were talks that NZ and the UK would have an agreement in principle signed last month, but this hasn't happened.

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