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China talks going well, Clark says

New Zealand Herald, Auckland

China talks going well, Clark says

14 December 2005

KUALA LUMPUR - Prime Minister Helen Clark says talks on a free-trade agreement with China are going pretty smoothly.

She had a 30-minute meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao yesterday.

So far, there have been five rounds of talks on a free-trade agreement between New Zealand and China. These have focused on framework and rules before the detailed discussions on market access can start.

Helen Clark said the talks were going pretty smoothly although there were obviously big issues still to be discussed.

"But the goodwill is there at the top level in China to work on an agreement."

She said she hoped the negotiations would be concluded as soon as possible "but not at the expense of a poor-quality agreement".

New Zealand was the first developed country to start negotiations for a free-trade agreement with China, with Australia not far behind.

Whether New Zealand was the first to conclude depended on how negotiations went "and I’m not prepared to sacrifice quality for speed".

Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton said this month that an implementation date of early 2007 was still an attainable goal.

The most sensitive issue for China is expected to be the proposed removal of tariffs on dairy products.

China has trade deals with Chile, the 10-member Asean group, and Thailand.