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Pledge given on free trade

The Press, Christchurch

Pledge given on free trade

By Dan Eaton and NZPA

12 January 2006

A group of United States senators has vowed to fight for a free trade agreement (FTA) with New Zealand after a high-level meeting in Christchurch.

Senior Arizona Senator John McCain, leading a delegation of fellow Republican senators, yesterday met Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters and his predecessor Phil Goff, who now holds the defence and trade portfolios.

Australia already has an FTA with the US, but New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy is seen as an impediment to securing a deal by some commentators.

After yesterday’s meeting McCain pledged to renew lobbying in Washington for an FTA with New Zealand.

McCain said New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy was "going to remain a reality" but should not impede progress toward an FTA. Such an agreement would be beneficial to both countries.

"We’ll go back with renewed vigour to get it (a free trade agreement) done."

McCain - a potential Republican candidate for the next American presidential elections - said he had expressed America’s deep appreciation for the efforts of Kiwi soldiers in Afghanistan.

"They’ve done such a great job with this reconstruction team that the Nato military commanders there say that the New Zealanders have done the best job of anyone in Bamiyan," he said.

McCain said that while the US may disagree with New Zealand’s stance on some issues, the relationship was strong.

"I’m confident both governments are very committed to the proposition (an FTA) and that we can work it out. If we don’t (achieve an agreement soon) it puts New Zealand at a certain disadvantage in trade with the United States," McCain said.

Peters and Goff who had, after September’s election, been involved in a public row over their overlapping roles, held a joint press conference yesterday.

"Most American people don’t realise sometimes that this country has paid more than its dues over a long period of time," said Peters.

"Senator McCain wasn’t aware that we had been engaged in so many parts of the world with the United States, of how significantly our past history has been bound with theirs and the level of sacrifice this country has made," said Peters.

Tensions over Peters’ role as a minister outside the Cabinet were nowhere in evidence yesterday as he and Goff were at pains to agree with each other.

Goff said he and Peters had taken McCain to a war memorial.

"He was quite impressed with the number of people who have sacrificed their lives in the wars we have fought," said Goff.

"We made the point that notwithstanding that New Zealand is a small country at the bottom of the South Pacific, we have always been a contributor to international affairs and international security.

"As Winston has said, we have paid our dues and to be very fair to the Congressional delegation they have recognised that," Goff said.

Peters said an FTA would be difficult to achieve.

"But ... you put your best foot forward and give it everything you’ve got to achieve a fair outcome."