WELLINGTON Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pressed for deeper trade ties with New Zealand and warned against global protectionism in a newspaper opinion piece published on Monday before meetings with Prime Minister Bill English and business leaders in Wellington.
In the New Zealand Herald column, titled "To New Zealand, with love", Li said "rising instability and uncertainty in the international landscape have made it all the more important for China and New Zealand to work together to turn challenges into opportunities."
China is the No. 1 trading partner to both Australia and New Zealand and trade was also a major focus of Li's visit to Australia last week, the first by a sitting Chinese premier in 11 years.
Li, on his first trip to New Zealand since he took office in 2013, was welcomed to Government House in Wellington by a Maori haka, a traditional dance and a cannon salute.
"Now that we have a fairly stable trade relationship on farm products, we need to move beyond import and export and promote high-tech-driven, high-value-added, whole-industrial-chain co-operation," Li wrote in the column.
New Zealand has long been more supportive of China's global ambitions than some of its other Western allies. It was the first Western country to sign a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, in 2008 and the first to join the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
The pair are now working on upgrading the FTA, which Li said was essential in a climate of rising protectionism.
"We have every reason to believe that globalisation will continue to move forward despite its setbacks, just as one should not stop eating for fear of getting choked," Li said.
New Zealand's $180 billion economy depends heavily on exports, and Li's remarks echoed those made by both English and New Zealand's Reserve Bank governor, Graeme Wheeler, who have warned that the tightening of global trade is the biggest threat to their country's prosperity.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Writing by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Jane Wardell and Peter Cooney)