Government steps back from trade talks with Russia

Author
NZ Herald Staff,
Section
Politics,
Publish Date
Friday, 16 March 2018, 7:29p.m.
The Government has stepped back from trade talks it was holding with Russia, due to the recent attack of a fromer Russian spy in the UK. (Photo/ NZ Herald)
The Government has stepped back from trade talks it was holding with Russia, due to the recent attack of a fromer Russian spy in the UK. (Photo/ NZ Herald)

The Government will no longer resume free-trade talks with Russia in light of the chemical attack in the UK against former spy Sergei Skripal, believed to be carried out by Russia.

In interviews expected to be aired this weekend, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the attack on British soil using a Russian-made nerve agent had changed the prospect of free-trade talks with the nation.

The Labour-NZ First coalition agreement included a promise to restart free-trade talks, but that will now be suspended following the attack on Skripal and his daughter.

New Zealand had almost completed a free-trade deal with Russia in 2014, but it was frozen following the Russian annexation of Crimea.

The chemical attack has sparked international outrage, with British Prime Minister Theresa May blaming the attack on Russia and announcing the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from the UK.

The Kremlin, which denies being behind the attack, responded by saying it would expel British diplomats from Moscow.

Speaking at Polyfest in Auckland today, Ardern denied that New Zealand had been soft on Russia over the attack.

"We have labelled this action as repugnant. It is a complete breach of international law. We've already used our voice in The Hague to reiterate that. Of course, we stand firmly against it."

Earlier this week Ardern again re-emphasised that a free trade deal with the European Union was New Zealand's top priority, following an interview with Foreign Minister Winston Peters in which he talked favourably about Russia.

Peters had said on The Nation that there was "no evidence" Russia had a hand in shooting down flight MH17 over Ukraine or that it had meddled in the US election.

He added that New Zealand traded with countries that had, for example, human rights or gender equality issues.

National Party foreign affairs spokesman Todd McClay said Peters was "fast earning himself an international reputation as an apologist for Russia".

"His inexplicable push for a free-trade agreement is raising questions and concerns among our closest partners – and threatening our own trade agenda. The Prime Minister needs to shut him down and start showing some leadership to our friends and allies."

Late last year European Union ambassador Bernard Savage said that any thawing of relations between New Zealand and Russia would be viewed in a "very negative" light.

A European Commissioner was due to visit New Zealand to launch talks but did not in light of concern over the new Government's position.

Meanwhile, Ardern has issued a strongly worded statement saying New Zealand supported the position of the leaders of the UK, US, Germany and France on the nerve-agent attack in Salisbury.

"Outrage at the brazen and callous use of chemical weapons in a UK town is fully justified. This attack left three people seriously injured, including a police officer who assisted at the scene, and potentially threatened many more," she said.

"This incident is a serious affront to accepted global rules and norms. The use of chemical weapons in any circumstances is totally repugnant, and New Zealand is deeply disturbed at any use of chemical substances banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention.

"New Zealand fully supports the sovereign right of the UK to take the action it considers appropriate in response to this violation of international law on its territory. We stand in solidarity with the UK alongside its other partners.

"Despite the further details that have emerged since the NZ government statement earlier this week, and despite the international outcry, the Russian reaction has been cynical, sarcastic and inadequate.

"There is no plausible alternative explanation hitherto, that this came from anywhere other than Russia, and no doubt whatsoever that Russia has serious questions to answer."

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