Friday, April 12, 2024

NZ back in talks about talks with Gulf trade bloc

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Lead negotiators to meet for first time since Trade for All agenda derailed Middle Eastern deal.
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Lead negotiators for New Zealand and the Gulf Cooperation Council are to meet for the first time in nearly a year in an attempt to revive stalled trade talks.

Negotiations had been substantially completed with the club of six oil-rich Middle Eastern states in 2009 to scrap tariffs costing NZ agricultural exporters $60 million a year.

However, the deal was never completed after Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) kingpin Saudi Arabia refused to back it.

Initially NZ’s refusal to resume live sheep exports to the region was to blame, but in more recent times a rift between Qatar and the rest of the GCC has held up negotiations.

That impediment appeared to fall away two years ago after diplomatic tensions subsided and the GCC resumed trade negotiations with a number of countries and concluded deals with several more. 

Former trade minister Damien O’Connor quickly followed up with a trip to the region in March 2022 to restart talks, but progress towards an agreement faltered soon afterwards.

The GCC withdrew its earlier offer to scrap agricultural tariffs after O’Connor sought to “update” the deal to include workers’ rights and environmental concessions under the auspices of the Labour Government’s Trade for All agenda. 

Soon after last year’s election, new Trade Minister Todd McClay said he would review that policy.

Now it has been agreed that the lead negotiators for the GCC and NZ will meet in the next month to try to get the talks back on track. Negotiators last met in Riyadh from May 30 to June 1 last year.

The breakthrough came after McClay met his Saudi Arabian counterpart for an hour at the recent World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi.

“There was an acceptance on both sides between the Saudi minister and I that the negotiations had probably got to a place that neither side had intended it to,” McClay said.

“The last government did all sorts of things they thought were helpful. It appears they weren’t as helpful as they hoped they would be.

“That is why we have asked the two negotiators to get together and see what blockages are there and look at what the solutions could be rather than just rehashing old arguments.”

McClay said he hopes to return to the region for high-level talks once negotiators have had a chance to meet. 

“I view that as extremely positive but there is still a long way to go.”

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