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French President Emmanuel Macron has come around on trade, appearing to support negotiations for a free trade deal between New Zealand and the European Union.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was welcomed by Macron, flanked by the Republican Guard on the steps of the Élysée Palace overnight. Following an hour-long discussion, the two leaders released a joint statement which outlined plans for cooperation on free trade, international security and environmental protection.
Persuading France to support New Zealand's bid for a free trade agreement with the EU has been Ardern's top priority on a week-long trade and diplomacy mission to Europe.
Following the meeting, she said she was “heartened” by the President's comments and was “confident” France's support would make a difference to the vote by European member states in May, on whether to issue a mandate to begin negotiations.
Concerns over New Zealand's competitive agricultural industry have been the cause of reservations from the French leader, and the pair released a joint statement following their meeting, which suggested a consensus had been reached.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was grateful for France's support on the FTA with the EU and any concerns could be worked out at the negotiating table.
Macron has also accepted in principle an invitation from the Prime Minister to visit New Zealand at a later date and invited Ardern to formal WWI ceremonies in November to commemorate 100 years since the “heroic” liberation of the French town of Le Quesnoy, by New Zealand soldiers.
During a joint press conference, Macron spoke of New Zealand's contribution to the war, where "our soldier fought side-by-side in particular on the battlefield of the Somme".
But said cooperation would only stretch as far as the upcoming test match in June between the French Les Bleus and the All Blacks in New Zealand.
In a friendly sledge, the President joked he could not pledge “to a fully convergent strategy”.
Both countries have agreed to "enhance opportunities for bilateral trade and investment, including through the future negotiation of a balanced, mutually beneficial, progressive and inclusive free trade agreement between New Zealand and the EU, that preserves the right of Governments to regulate for legitimate public policy objectives such as the promotion of sustainable development”.
Macron said the two leaders "noted a broad convergence of views" on free trade, particularly on a new era of “socially responsible” agreements.
“I believe it's this new generation of trade agreements that we can take forward in the agreement between New Zealand and the EU, it can serve as a model in this respect.”
Ardern agreed, saying it was an "opportunity to conclude an agreement that is a model for progressive and inclusive trade”.
Across a raft of areas, the two leaders have agreed to work together to strengthen existing partnerships and forging new ones - most significantly in areas of defence in the Middle East and the Pacific region.
On the eve of Ardern's meeting with Macron, the French leader did a marathon two-hour interview with a French broadcaster to mark his first year in office. He revealed further details of France's involvement in Saturday's retaliatory missile strikes lead by the United States on key chemical weapons sites in Syria.
And he said he was grateful for New Zealand's support for the action and shared the view that UN Security Council solutions must continue to be sought.
Ardern said discussions with the president had "confirmed our friendship", and the relationship was as strong as ever.
The leaders have agreed to “uphold the fight against terrorism worldwide" with a particular focus on the Middle East and the ongoing fight against Isis.
More frequent dialogue on Pacific issues was likely at least partially in response to recent reports China was hoping to set up a military base in Vanuatu.
The move has caused international concern at the broadening reach of China into the backyard of Australia and New Zealand, following an extensive soft power push by funding infrastructure and offering loans to a number of Pacific Islands.
Both countries would also work closely to combat climate change, and Macron said he would like the partnership to be “a defining one.
SOURCE: STUFF NZ/PACNEWS
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