Britain opens free trade negotiations with New Zealand - My article in the New Zealand Herald

This week is the start of an exciting new chapter in the shared history of Britain and New Zealand.

Our two island nations are already close friends, bound tightly by cultural, economic and social ties that have stood the test of time.

Britain is the largest ex-pat community in New Zealand. We both share a language, a head of state and a system of common law. We also share a strong commitment to free and fair trade, and believe fundamentally in the rule of law and the power that democracy has to drive forward human progress.

But what we have never had is a free trade agreement. That can finally change now Britain has left the EU. We are re-emerging after decades in hibernation as a campaigner for free trade. With our new-found independence we have the opportunity, means and wherewithal to go back out into the world and reach out to our historic friends and allies once again.

New Zealand is at the forefront among them. That is why today we start formal negotiations on what we hope will be an ambitious and wide-ranging free trade agreement, one that reaffirms and strengthens our friendship and delivers increased prosperity for our businesses and people.

We firmly believe a deal is the best interests of both of countries. Our trading relationship is already worth around NZ$5.9 billion, yet there is much we can do to make trade between our countries easier and cheaper.

Mutual recognition of professional qualifications will encourage the two-way flow of professional and financial services. Lower tariffs on wine and whisky could see cheaper products on our supermarket shelves. And the removal of unnecessary paperwork, clearer information for exporters and less onerous customs procedures could trigger an explosion in small business trade, helping British and Kiwi businesses export their goods for the first time. In practice, this means cheaper goods and more choice for consumers. It creates more opportunities for businesses, more jobs, increased innovation and higher wages.

Together we can also break new ground in trade policy and set an example for the rest of the world to follow. New Zealand is already one of the world's most progressive trading nations and leads the way in areas like digital trade. We hope an agreement can go further in setting new global standards for the trade of digital services, data and new technologies like AI. And we can show other nations that sustainability and high environmental standards can and must be part of any modern, responsible free trade agreement, and demonstrate our fierce commitment to shaping a world that is fit for future generations.

But perhaps above all else, an ambitious agreement sends a powerful signal that our two countries are prepared to defend the fundamental right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other.

Free trade has done more than any other economic idea to lift billions out of poverty and has done so incredibly fast. Thirty years ago, 37 per cent of the world's population was in absolute poverty - that is now down to less than 10 per cent, in part thanks to the opportunity generated by open markets and international commerce.

Yet the benefits appear to be fading. Barriers to trade are going up, mercantilists are everywhere and protectionism is gaining ground. Coronavirus has given oxygen to those who advocate closed and statist economies, when in fact what the world needs is governments that are prepared to make the case powerfully for free exchange.

An agreement between our two countries demonstrates that we are willing to stand up for that fundamental liberty and strengthen the club of nations who share a commitment to advance free trade, fight protectionism and defend international rules. It is time for us to join hands and lead the world in that endeavour.