Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Talks on upgrading free trade to start in late April

Talks on upgrading free trade to start in late April

China's Premier Li Keqiang is welcomed to Government House by a Maori elder during a welcome ceremony in Wellington on Sunday. Li is on a three-day visit to New Zealand. Photo: AFP

New Zealand on Monday became the first Western country to sign a cooperation agreement with China on the Belt and Road initiative.

Visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and his New Zealand counterpart, Prime Minister Bill English, witnessed the signing of the memorandum of understanding, which adds to the long list of ground-breaking achievements the two countries have scored in bilateral cooperation, the Xinhua News Agency reported Monday.

"This is an excellent start. New Zealand used to be a close US ally, but now its decision-making is getting increasingly independent and it is a good example for other Western countries to learn how to deal with China," said Wang Yiwei, director of the Center for International Studies at the Renmin University of China.

"Not only on the Belt and Road, but also in many other areas, New Zealand is always the first to cooperate with China among the West," Wang added.

New Zealand was also the first Western country to conclude bilateral negotiations on China's accession to the World Trade Organization, to recognize China's full market-economy status, to sign and implement a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with China, and to join the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a founding member.

The Belt and Road initiative, which comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along and beyond the ancient land and maritime Silk Road trade routes.

"The Belt and Road initiative is not only for developing countries. For instance, many developed countries' infrastructure really needs improvement, and their governments and banks can't provide stable long-term investment for those costly infrastructure construction projects. Their enterprises don't have Chinese companies' capability and efficiency to finish the projects, so the Belt and Road initiative can offer the helping hand that they really need," Wang said.

Some Western countries have financial strength but now they can't really find good places and good projects to invest in, so China and the Belt and Road initiative can also provide these for them, Wang added. 

English said Paul Goldsmith, New Zealand's regulatory reform and innovation minister, would attend a Belt and Road summit in Beijing in May.

Return the favor

According to Xinhua, "China and New Zealand will explore the possibilities of bilateral cooperation in various fields to promote interconnectivity between the two countries," Li told a joint press conference with English.

China and New Zealand agreed to start negotiations on upgrading their free trade agreement on April 25.

At a joint press conference after talks with English on Monday, Li said upgrading the FTA will promote the development of bilateral economic and trade ties and better benefit the two peoples.

"The China-New Zealand FTA is among the highest-standard of those signed between China and developed countries," Li said.

Negotiations will touch on investment, service trade, quarantine of animals and plants, the Principle of Original Production Place, economy and technology, e-commerce, and competition policies, Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand Wang Lutong told Xinhua.

"New Zealand is a special Western country. Firstly, it's unlike Australia and Singapore, which are geographically close to China and worry that China's rise might threaten their security; secondly, it's also unlike the US and European countries, it doesn't care about the shifts in power among the international community," said Chu Yin, an associate professor at the University of International Relations.

New Zealand is very open minded when it cooperates with China. "What it wants is very simple: free trade. It's a maritime country which heavily relies on foreign trade, so it will be more friendly and cooperative with China compared to other Western countries," Chu said.

China has to treasure New Zealand's sincerity and friendship, and return the favor to this trustworthy partner. More Western countries will abandon ideological bias to follow New Zealand to be more cooperative with China, if we can make New Zealand enjoy real benefits from the cooperation, Chu suggested.

"In other words, we need to use solid facts to prove and convince others that being nice to China means a better future."

According to a press release from the Immigration Office of New Zealand on Monday, five-year multiple entry visas are available to Chinese citizens who want to travel to New Zealand as tourists, to visit family or for business.

"China is expected to surpass Australia to become the No.1 source of foreign tourists in New Zealand by the year 2020, and the latest release from the New Zealand government is good news for both Chinese tourists and New Zealand's tourism industries," Chu said.