11 Jan 2017

Bill English talks free trade with EU President

1:05 pm on 11 January 2017

Bill English has kicked off his first overseas trip as Prime Minister with high-level meetings at the European Union headquarters in Brussels.

Bill English meets with Donald Tusk, President of the European Council.

Bill English meets with Donald Tusk, President of the European Council. Photo: Supplied: EU Council Newsroom

Mr English has today met with the President of European Council, Donald Tusk and trade was high on the agenda.

After the meeting, Mr English said New Zealand and the EU were still committed to starting negotiations on a free trade deal this year.

"It's my expectation that we should be able to conclude a high quality agreement that opens up opportunities for our businesses, small and large, and underscores our shared values."

The EU is New Zealand's third largest trading partner, and it's the world's second-largest economic entity.

Mr Tusk said a free trade agreement would have economic benefits for both sides, boosting sustainable growth, investment and job creation.

"It would also send a strong political signal of economic openness and trade at a time where protectionist pressures are on the rise, not only on our continent but also around the world."

The pair also discussed the conflict in Syria, Brexit, New Zealand's time on the UN Security Council and the EU's development assistance in the Pacific.

New Zealand and the EU agreed in October 2015 to begin talks on a free trade deal.

But before formal negotiations commenced, the EU had to complete a 12 to 18-month process, which included joint discussions to define the scope and overall approach to the negotiations.

While in Europe, Mr English will travel to Berlin to meet with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

He is also scheduled to meet with the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, in London.

He will return to New Zealand on 18 January.

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