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Goff: Getting serious about Asia

24 November 2004

Hon Phil Goff: Getting serious about Asia is bearing fruit for NZ

With the APEC leaders summit just concluded in Chile, Foreign Minister Phil Goff says the time is right for New Zealand to step up its relationships in Asia

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New Zealand's attendance at APEC this month is just one aspect of our growing engagement with our neighbours in Asia. With free trade arrangements at various stages of negotiation with China, Thailand, the ASEAN Free Trade Area, and Singapore (in conjunction with Chile), and a study underway with Malaysia, Asia has never been as important to New Zealand's future as it is now.

Last November the Prime Minister chaired a Seriously Asia conference that brought together politicians, businesspeople, academics and community interests to focus on improving our Asian relationships across the board.

The conference recognised that there are many positive trends unfolding in Asia that New Zealand could both benefit from and reinforce. These include the bounce-back of economies hit by the Asian financial crisis; some encouraging democratic trends, and a renewed focus of Asian governments on cooperating internationally on political, security and economic issues.

Our growing economic linkages; expanded family ties through migration, and shared concerns about security and stability, bring us closer together as a region.

The first fruits of renewed attention to Asian relationships are a strengthening of existing economic opportunities and political cooperation. Most significantly, China and New Zealand have completed a feasibility study and agreed at APEC to begin negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA).

The study says that our exports to China will grow by as much as $400 million a year over the next twenty years. This means more jobs and long-term prosperity for New Zealanders.

China's rapid emergence as an economic power has already created many opportunities for New Zealand. A successful FTA negotiation would consolidate these gains and open up new possibilities for growth. But other prospects are emerging as well.

FTA negotiations have been finalised with Thailand, and the government is working on a study for a possible FTA with Malaysia. On 5 September economic and trade Ministers from Australia, New Zealand and the ten ASEAN countries recommended that FTA negotiations should be launched to link the 12 countries.

ASEAN covers all of South East Asia, has a combined population of 550 million, and is collectively New Zealand's fifth largest export destination. A combined AFTA-CER market would be roughly double the value of the trans-Tasman market.

Along with these prospects, we already have an FTA signed with Singapore. Japan remains a vitally important trading partner - our third largest - and our participation at next year's Aichi Expo gives us an important new opportunity to profile New Zealand in that country.

India's economy is opening up, and its government is seeking to build stronger international links. New Zealand wants to be part of that but, as elsewhere in Asia, we have to make the running. In recognition of that, the Prime Minister recently made a highly successful visit to India, which also proved of considerable value to the business delegation that accompanied her.

When all this is added up, it becomes clear that prospects for improved living standards are increasingly bound up with Asia.

Pursuit of trade links is only part of the story. If we are to live productively alongside Asia and develop positive connections with its peoples, then we need to think beyond simply making deals.

This desire for broadly based relations is shared by New Zealand's Asian partners. It explains why we expect the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA negotiations will be formally launched at a special Summit meeting between ASEAN's leaders and the Prime Ministers of New Zealand and Australia, to be held in Vientiane, Laos, on 30 November.

Thirty years ago Australia and New Zealand became Dialogue Partners of ASEAN, among the earliest of 11 countries to establish this type of formal relationship. The arrangement gave us regular official and ministerial contacts with ASEAN, along with opportunities to coordinate diplomatic action on regional and international issues, and to contribute to strengthening regional cooperation in South East Asia. The Vientiane Summit will celebrate this anniversary.

The Summit will also chart a new path for intensified future cooperation. ASEAN wants to strengthen its position by looking outwards for support and cooperation, while also becoming more cohesive internally. These objectives have led ASEAN members to think harder about closer ties with New Zealand and Australia, both for the specific benefits that might accrue, and to complement their growing relationship with ASEAN's northern neighbours.

Seriously Asia was not just about New Zealand's relations with ASEAN and China. Its purpose was to get New Zealanders thinking about the important place Asian countries and organisations will occupy in our future. We need to work out how we are going to manage our interests there through effective governmental and non-governmental relationships.

Part of the answer lies in understanding Asia better. The Asia New Zealand Foundation (formerly Asia 2000) and government agencies will map out the whole range of New Zealand relationships with Asia so relevant skills can be better identified and specialist knowledge better used.

They will carry out studies on Asian countries, emphasising ways to maximise opportunities for New Zealand; they will set up "virtual clusters" of policy experts to boost analysis capabilities, and they will work to broaden the New Zealand Inc contacts with Asia well beyond trade.

One key to developing a new concept of neighbourhood with Asian countries will be building better links between our peoples. The quality of our future connections with Asia will depend on individual New Zealanders - whether they are traders, travellers, teachers, students, sports-people or artists - as much as it depends on what policymakers might do.

ENDS

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