New Zealand-China

On 7 April 2008, New Zealand and China signed a comprehensive bilateral free trade agreement. It was the first bilateral FTA that Beijing signed with a so-called developed country. It entered into force on 1 October 2008.

The NZ-China FTA has raised a number of concerns among New Zealanders, especially relating to:

- weak food safety and environmental standards behind China’s agricultural exports to NZ, which are bound to multiply because of the deal;
- the labour conditions and lack of rights that Chinese workers are subject to, which the FTA does not address;
- China’s broader human rights record, including the repression in Tibet;
- the ability of Chinese corporations to now sue the New Zealand government if it were to restrict, in any way, Chinese trade or investment on grounds relating to labour rights, environmental standards or health concerns; and
- the inability of New Zealand’s fruit and vegetable producers to compete with the influx of Chinese imports, given the lower wages in their production costs.

A number of New Zealand business groups eager to expand operations in China were happy with the deal, of course. One of these was Fonterra, New Zealand’s largest company and the third largest dairy exporter on the planet. Fonterra took advantage of the agreement to buy up Chinese dairy companies and further build its business in the mainland. But when the melamine milk scandal broke in September 2008 and the public learned that Fonterra — which owned 43% of Sanlu, the first Chinese company linked to the milk — knew of the contamination months before but never said anything, the recriminations came pouring in. (More than 300,000 people fell ill and six infants died of kidney failure as a result of the contamination. And by the end of 2008, Sanlu went bankrupt.)

last update: May 2012


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  • 29-Sep-2015 NZ Herald Dairy at risk, China free trade deal updated
    China is poised to upgrade its ground-breaking free trade agreement with New Zealand but scoring a major move in favour of NZ’s dairy exporters will be problematic.
  • 23-Jun-2015 NZ Herald NZ seeks better deal with China
    The Government is looking to China to renegotiate its free trade agreement with New Zealand after China signed a more generous agreement with Australia.
  • 25-Apr-2013 Sunlive NZ-China agricultural agreement signed
    NZ Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy has signed a Strategic Plan on Promoting Agricultural Cooperation between New Zealand and China.
  • 10-Aug-2011 NZ Herald China ready to fight for its pound of flesh
    NZ Trade Minister Tim Groser is expected to smooth some growing wrinkles in New Zealand’s relationship with China when he arrives in Beijing on Monday for talks with some of Beijing’s most powerful mandarins.
  • 22-Jun-2011 China’s dairy tariffs part of FTA - Groser
    Tariffs imposed by China on imported dairy products are part of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) which New Zealand has benefitted greatly from, Trade Minister Tim Groser says.
  • 17-Jun-2010 Groser walks diplomatic path to China as Greens lob barbed warning
    A Chinese political and trade delegation to New Zealand has been lauded as a positive continuance of a burgeoning relationship between the two countries by Trade Minister Tim Groser.
  • 24-Mar-2010 Bloomberg Natural Dairy buys four farms, eyes more in NZ plan
    The deal shows “the gate on the New Zealand-China free trade agreement swings both ways,” a Federated Farmers official said. Natural Dairy, formerly China Jin Hui Mining Corporation, agreed to buy four farms in New Zealand and is in talks for 24 more as part of a NZ$1.5bn (US$1.1bn) expansion in the world’s biggest dairy exporter.
  • 15-Jan-2010 Stuff Commitment needed for China trade
    We’re the only Western country to boast a free trade deal with China. But are New Zealand companies — and the Government — doing enough to exploit that?
  • 30-Oct-2009 High kiwi overshadows benefits of Chinese deal
    The benefits of the New Zealand-China free trade deal have been overshadowed by the high dollar and plunging export values in September, figures from Statistics New Zealand show.
  • 25-Aug-2009 Progress made towards New Zealand-Asia FTA: minister
    Recent talks made progress toward a free trade agreement with Asian countries, Trade Minister Tim Groser told Parliament on Tuesday.
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  • NZ-China FTA
    New Zealand government’s webpage on the NZ-China FTA