AAP | February 15, 2011
Gillard aims for bigger free trade zone
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has set a goal of achieving an expanded Pacific region free trade zone by the end of the year.
In a speech to business leaders in Auckland on Tuesday, Ms Gillard said she would work with NZ Prime Minister John Key to bring more nations into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) fold.
The TPP currently involves Chile, Singapore, Brunei and New Zealand, which have binding agreements on free trade.
Four other nations — Australia, South Korea, Peru and the United States — are formally examining how they can take part, while Vietnam is an associate member and Malaysia, Japan, Thailand and Taiwan have expressed some interest.
"Building a free trade zone that includes the United States, Chile, Malaysia and Singapore will be major development... one of the biggest steps since CER (the Closer Economic Relationship between Australia and New Zealand) itself," Ms Gillard said.
"Prime Minister Key and I will work to make the expanded partnership a reality by the time of APEC this year."
Ms Gillard arrived in Auckland on Tuesday for her first official visit as prime minister.
She told the business leaders a new protocol to be signed on Wednesday would better enable investment between the two countries.
Australia is increasing from $231 million to just over $1 billion the threshold under which the New Zealand investment will not, in nearly all circumstances, require screening.
This puts New Zealand on par with the United States in enjoying the most liberalised access possible to the Australian investment market.
NZ is changing its threshold from $US100 million ($A99.91 million) to nearly $US500 million ($A499.55 million).
During her address, Ms Gillard acknowledged two disasters which struck New Zealand late last year: the mining tragedy in Greymouth, which left 29 men dead — including two Australians — and the destruction caused by the Canterbury earthquake.
She also thanked New Zealanders for their volunteer efforts during in the Queensland floods.
She told the audience the two countries were great friends and must continue to work closely together.
"We are island nations to whom nobody owes a living. If we gain any advantage in the world it’s because we fight for it and we earn it," Ms Gillard said.
"There is no other way except to say this: we can achieve more together than we can alone."
Ms Gillard will spend Tuesday in Auckland before flying to Wellington to address the New Zealand parliament’s debating chamber, meet with volunteers who helped during the Queensland floods, lay a wreath at the National War Memorial and continue talks with Mr Key.