New Zealand’s Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern has branded every of her 4 overseas journeys up to now this 12 months as “commerce missions” – and the labelling will definitely ring true on her go to to Brussels this week. Ardern might want to deploy each facet of her star energy if she is to have any hope of rescuing New Zealand’s faltering free commerce negotiations with the European Union (EU).
On Thursday, Ardern will maintain direct talks with Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Fee. The previous German protection minister has change into a well-known face on New Zealand tv screens over the previous few months, because of her repeated bulletins on the EU’s help for Ukraine.
Sadly for Ardern, nonetheless, von der Leyen is extra of a figurehead who can solely function a go-between within the negotiations with the EU’s 27 member states. And in relation to New Zealand’s key agricultural exports, the prospects for a positive deal are bleak.
Malcolm Bailey, the chairman of the Dairy Firms Affiliation of New Zealand, says the EU is “doubling-down on maintaining its market nearly fully shut to New Zealand dairy exporters.”
The EU’s preliminary market provide to New Zealand, leaked in 2020, included an export quota of simply 1,500 tonnes of cheese yearly – and simply 600 tonnes of butter. The ultimate settlement will little doubt convey some enchancment on this low-ball provide, however in all probability not a lot.
Ardern might need hoped that the most important overseas coverage shifts taken by New Zealand since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February would have had some affect on the EU’s method to commerce offers with Western companions outdoors the bloc. In any case, the speak at each post-Ukraine assembly of Western leaders is now of solidarity and unity. And New Zealand has undoubtedly made main, EU-pleasant shifts to its overseas coverage since February.
Ardern carried out an historic U-turn on the precept of autonomous sanctions by passing the Russia Sanctions Act in March, earlier than making equally symbolic defensive and deadly support commitments to Ukraine – and even deploying a small variety of New Zealand troops to Europe.
In fact, there was by no means any formal indication or perhaps a suggestion that New Zealand’s help for Ukraine was a part of any quid professional quo. New Zealanders have been as shocked as anybody by the brutality of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion and requires Wellington to do extra to assist Kyiv got here simply as a lot from home sources as from worldwide ones.
However, the concept New Zealand’s alignment with the EU’s place on Ukraine might have an effect on the free commerce settlement (FTA) has at all times lingered under the floor.
In March, the EU’s ambassador to New Zealand, Nina Obermaier, informed a Parliamentary choose committee: “I’m sure that the present state of affairs may be very a lot on everyone’s minds and that positively will have an effect on how shortly we are able to conclude.”
Extra not too long ago, Obermaier – who’s travelling to Brussels with Ardern – stated the EU-NZ free commerce deal could be an “essential sign,” remarking that “the urge for food to conclude commerce agreements in a context the place the worldwide rules-based order is beneath risk has solely change into stronger.”
For New Zealand, a strong free commerce settlement with the EU is greater than only a good perk. By shifting New Zealand nearer to the West over current months – whether or not by design or just by advantage of circumstance – Ardern has arguably uncovered New Zealand to larger geopolitical threat.
The information that New Zealand has signed as much as a brand new U.S.-led grouping that additionally consists of Australia, Japan, and the UK – Companions within the Blue Pacific (PBP) – demonstrates as soon as extra how Wellington is drifting in direction of the West.
The issue is that whereas New Zealand is more and more backing the West, the West will not be absolutely backing New Zealand. Neither the EU nor the U.S. is supporting their rhetoric of solidarity and unity with the financial offers New Zealand would want to have a real different to China.
The US’ new Indo-Pacific Financial Framework (IPEF) might convey some smaller advantages – and will ultimately change into one thing greater – however even the White Home admits that it’s “not a conventional free commerce settlement.”
Solely the UK appears to have absolutely grasped the idea that New Zealand wants a commerce lifeline. New Zealand was pleasantly stunned by the gold-plated FTA that it secured with the U.Okay. final 12 months – a deal that the U.Okay. itself predicted might scale back its personal GDP, which might solely be defined by geopolitics.
In fact, U.S. President Joe Biden and Ursula von der Leyen may nicely argue that direct comparisons with the U.Okay. are unfair. If it have been as much as them personally, they’d in all probability fortunately log out on a commerce cope with New Zealand – inhabitants 5 million – as a small geopolitical value to pay for getting one other Western nation on aspect. However Biden can solely log out on what a protectionist Congress permits (in different phrases, little or no), whereas von der Leyen has the near-impossible job of balancing the pursuits of 27 EU member states.
In contrast, for all his weakened private political capital, Prime Minister Boris Johnson nonetheless has the numbers to simply push the U.Okay.’s free commerce cope with New Zealand by means of the Home of Commons.
Jacinda Ardern is about to scatter stardust over Brussels. However it is probably not sufficient to win New Zealand the commerce settlement it wants.
This text was initially revealed by the Democracy Undertaking, which goals to reinforce New Zealand democracy and public life by selling important considering, evaluation, debate, and engagement on politics and society.