Last week, I returned to New Zealand after leading a trade mission through the Gulf States – the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. This trip was an invaluable opportunity to strengthen and grow our trade and business links, build relationships with leaders in the region as well as to promote the New Zealand story in the region.
It also provided the chance to progress a free-trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. The discussions we had were positive and I believe we are close to getting a deal, which would be hugely beneficial for New Zealand businesses. The GCC…… is New Zealand’s fifth-largest export destination, and New Zealand’s exports to the region are worth about $1.9 billion a year. Improving New Zealand’s access to international markets through free trade agreements is an important way the Government can support exporters and build a more productive and competitive economy, which leads to more jobs and higher incomes for New Zealanders. We already have free trade agreements with key markets like China and Korea.
Whilst I was overseas, news broke of the devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal and the surrounding region on 25 April. My heart went out of the people of Nepal. New Zealand knows only too well the devastating effects of earthquakes after our experiences in Christchurch in 2010 and 2011. There is immense goodwill between New Zealand and Nepal, based on our links through Sir Edmund Hillary. Sir Edmund was the first climber to reach the summit of Mt Everest – the world’s highest mountain – in Nepal in 1953. New Zealand has so far contributed $2 million to the relief and recovery efforts, and we will continue to assess how we can assist further.
In a few weeks’ time, the National-led Government will deliver its seventh Budget on 21 May. It will set out in detail the revised economic and fiscal forecasts as well as the Government’s decisions around new spending. I look forward to updating you on that in coming weeks.