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Key plans pitch on free trade deal to Japanese

New Zealand Herald, Auckland

Key plans pitch on free trade deal to Japanese

29 October 2009

By Audrey Young

John Key will make a bold pitch for a free-trade agreement between Japan and New Zealand when he meets Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama late tonight in Tokyo.

And the new Prime Minister’s vow to end the power of officials and return it to politicians make that more possible than it has seemed in the past.

Mr Key described the meeting tonight as a "critical" meeting for New Zealand in terms of re-energising the relationship.

"If Prime Minister Hatoyama wants to see the relationship progress, it is within his power to do so," Mr Key told the Herald in Tokyo. "But he will have to go over the top of the bureaucrats who have been holding it back for a few decades."

Progress on a study agreed to between former Prime Ministers Helen Clark and Yasuo Fukuda had been "glacial" and stalled by officials, Mr Key said.

"[Dr Hatoyama ] has made it clear that he wants a policy led by politicians and not by the bureaucrats and we take that as a way of saying he wants to cut through a lot of the bureaucracy that has held back a lot of things in Japan, not the least being relations with countries like New Zealand."

Mr Key said Japan, the second largest economy in the world, and New Zealand’s fourth biggest trade partner, was a market where New Zealand under-performed, though "not through the want of trying".

"But we need to make political progress to make economic progress."

Dr Hatoyama has been in office for six weeks and Mr Key has met him twice already, briefly at the United Nations last month and last weekend at the East Asia Summit in Hua Hin in Thailand.

Mr Key’s five-day visit follows on from his stop in Kuala Lumpur where New Zealand and Malaysia signed a free-trade agreement.

Mr Key said he would set out a case on why it was important for both countries to re-energise the relationship "and why it will be only possible to make progress with political buy-in from both sides".

Japan has not concluded a free-trade deal with any developed country yet. Talks with Australia and the United States have stalled over agriculture.

Mr Key said New Zealand’s agricultural output was not threatening to Japan’s.

"One of our arguments is going to be that they are very complementary for our different seasons and relatively speaking we are small, so we are a good test case for an FTA."

Mr Key also wants to discuss further Dr Hatoyama’s East Asia Community idea.

New Zealand was open to it - and the Asia Pacific Community proposed by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd - as long as it didn’t compromise current regional participation in Apec and the East Asia Summit.

Mr Key was also keen to discuss North Korea and Afghanistan.

Dr Hatoyama, in his first big policy speech in the Diet on Monday, said the change in power had been "brought about by ... the public urging something should be done to fix [politics including] ... the cosy relationship" between politicians and bureaucrats".