15 Mar 2018

Russia talks won't hinder EU trade deal - Peters

8:53 pm on 15 March 2018

Foreign Minister Winston Peters says he has had no indication that New Zealand's pursuit of a free trade deal with Russia would hinder ongoing negotiations with the European Union.

NZ First Leader Winston Peters

NZ First Leader Winston Peters Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Mr Peters has been responding to accusations from the National Party that he is an apologist for Russia.

He denied New Zealand was putting a deal with Russia above other agreements.

New Zealand's free trade agreements talks with Russia were suspended in 2014 , following Russia's military intervention in Ukraine.

However, this government has resumed discussions about a deal, in line with the coalition agreement between Labour and New Zealand First.

National's Todd McClay said that raised questions about New Zealand's foreign policy.

"There is a lot of concern that Russia and a free trade agreement is being put ahead of all other trade agreements."

Mr Peters said there was no indication from the European Union a deal with Russia would compromise the talks with the EU, which have been ongoing since 2015.

"And I would not expect them to make a comment like that, I know that we'll taking up conversations with them in a matter of weeks."

There was a conversation of "some length" with the the Russian foreign ministry about a trade deal at the East Asia Summit in the Philippines last November, Mr Peters said.

It was too early to say how the attempted poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, could affect the relationship between New Zealand and Russia, and any trade talks, he said.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May said today there was "no alternative conclusion" than to believe Russia was "culpable" for the attempted murders.

The incident had "somewhat complicated" the issue of a trade deal, Mr Peters said.

"However, other past events saw the conversations continue so I don't at this point in time see it as our number one priority."

New Zealand has had trade deals with a number of countries whose record on human rights and the rule of law had been less than satisfactory, Mr Peters said.

"But we've had trade nevertheless, and if we didn't our people in New Zealand would be starving."

British High Commissioner to New Zealand Laura Clarke said Britain was very supportive of deals between New Zealand and the EU, and eventually with the UK.

"Who New Zealand does free trade agreements is a matter for New Zealand but of course these discussions, discussions between the EU and New Zealand, discussions between the UK and New Zealand, they never happen in a vacuum."

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