February 10, 2017 / 1:00 AM / 5 months ago

China, New Zealand pledge to support for free trade

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New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English speaks in Wellington, New Zealand, February 1, 2017 to announce the country's general election date will be on September 23.Charlotte Greenfield

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi agreed to work together to support free trade and globalisation when they met in New Zealand's largest city, Auckland, China's foreign ministry has said in a statement.

The pair met on Thursday and discussed launching negotiations to upgrade an existing bilateral free trade agreement and cooperate in sectors such as infrastructure, tourism and judicial enforcement, said the statement published late on Thursday on the ministry's website.

"Hand in hand, we should protect the international trade system, build the open economy, and try to start upgrading the negotiation of the free trade agreement," it quoted Wang as saying.

New Zealand was the first Western country to sign a free trade agreement with China in 2008. China is now New Zealand's largest goods export partner, with New Zealand exports to China at NZ$12.2 billion ($8.54 billion) in the year to June, 2016.

During the meeting, English also welcomed Chinese enterprises to invest in New Zealand, while Wang said he hoped New Zealand could support China's One Belt, One Road initiative with its infrastructure projects.

The Chinese foreign ministry also said that English spoke highly of Chinese President Xi Jinping's speech at the 2017 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, which offered a vigorous defence of globalisation and signalled Beijing's desire to play a bigger role on the world stage.

It did not say whether the two had discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact.

New Zealand and Australia have said that they hope to salvage TPP by encouraging China and other Asian countries to join the trade pact after U.S. President Donald Trump kept a promise to abandon the accord. [nL4N1FE07E]

China has been playing up its role as a steadying force from global trade to climate change amid a turbulent start by new U.S. President Donald Trump, whose first weeks in office have been marked by media feuds and protests. [nL4N1FE3YE]

Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Michael Perry

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