New Zealand and Australian Ministers met in Auckland on 27 February 2015 for the annual Closer Economic Relations (CER) Ministerial Meeting. New Zealand’s delegation was led by Minister of Trade and Minister for Climate Change Issues, Hon Tim Groser. Australia’s delegation was led by Minister for Trade and Investment, the Hon Andrew Robb AO MP.

The annual meeting is a forum for ministerial oversight of the Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations (CER) Trade Agreement and its suite of over 80 related agreements and arrangements. The 32 year old CER is one of the world’s most comprehensive, effective and mutually compatible free trade agreements. The meeting also provides direction and drives progress in pursuing the Single Economic Market (SEM) Agenda, which seeks to eliminate barriers to trade, reduce business costs and increase investment levels on both sides of the Tasman.

Ministers reaffirmed both countries’ strong commitment to further trans-Tasman integration, welcoming the continued progress towards the joint ambition of a Single Economic Market (SEM).

Ministers expressed satisfaction that work on business law harmonisation begun in 2009 will be completed in 2015. Outcomes achieved since their last meeting include:

  • equivalent consumer credit requirements and enforcement regimes for businesses on both sides of the Tasman;
  • investors and other users of financial products in Australia and New Zealand receive comparable disclosures.

They also welcomed ongoing work on areas of bilateral cooperation that contribute towards economic integration, including:

  • enabling trusted online identities to be accepted in both countries so as to allow access to government services online;
  • on the alignment of qualifications frameworks with the goal of enhancing the mobility of students and skilled labour between the two countries;
  • continued cooperation on the roll-out of E Gate;
  • progress in implementing the recommendations of the Australian and New Zealand Productivity Commissions’ 2012 report Strengthening trans-Tasman Economic Relations;
  • reviews of the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Arrangement and the Australia New Zealand Double Taxation Agreement, both scheduled to be completed in the latter half of 2015; and
  • completion of a review of the CER Protocol on Trade in Services to test whether there is scope for further liberalising trans-Tasman trade in services.

Ministers noted that many of the next steps towards economic integration will build on existing work. They agreed this should be recognised as a positive reflection of progress to date, and of the unique and mature nature of the trans-Tasman relationship.

Ministers also directed officials to undertake discussions on options to progress the SEM Agenda, and report back to Ministers before their next CER Ministerial meeting.

Ministers acknowledged the 10th anniversary of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum also being held on 27 February 2015. Ministers congratulated the Forum on its achievements over the last 10 years in contributing to development of the bilateral relationship and noted the anniversary presents an excellent opportunity to consider how to drive further trans-Tasman business and trade. Ministers noted that the visit of a senior Australian trade delegation accompanying Mr Robb underlined the importance of business in driving growth and expanding trade.

The high level of economic integration and importance of the bilateral economic relationship are reflected by increasing trade and investment figures. Australia features as New Zealand’s largest overall trading partner (goods and services). New Zealand is Australia’s 6th largest overall trading partner (goods and services). Two-way goods and services trade between Australia and New Zealand, in the year ending June 2014, was worth NZ$23.9 billion (A$22.7 billion).

The tourism market continues to be a vital part of the services trade, with around 1.2 million visitors in each direction in the year to June 2014.

Australia and New Zealand are also close investment partners – as at end March 2014, New Zealand had NZ$50.7 billion (A$47.6 billion) invested in Australia, while Australia had NZ$114.5 billion (A$107.4 billion) invested in New Zealand.

Ministers reaffirmed both countries’ continuing and unwavering commitment to free and open regional trade, and welcomed the substantive progress made in liberalising trade at the global, regional and bilateral level. Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to a rules-based multilateral trading system centred on the World Trade Organization (WTO), and to mapping a post-Bali work programme to conclude the Doha Round. Ministers expressed their support for timely entry into force of the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation, noting Australia and New Zealand were currently progressing domestic ratification of the treaty.

Ministers welcomed the significant progress in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations to date and agreed to continue to work together to conclude the negotiations in the coming months, to achieve a high quality comprehensive 21st century agreement. Ministers also emphasised the importance of working closely together towards an ambitious Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and welcomed progress in negotiations towards the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER Plus).

Australia and New Zealand will continue to work together as they engage in Asian-Pacific markets and implement concluded agreements. Ministers looked forward to entry-into-force of the First Protocol to amend the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA later this year, which will reduce red tape and make it easier for Australian and New Zealand companies to use the Agreement.

Ministers noted that both countries have also progressed bilateral agreements, with Australia securing trade agreements with Korea and Japan and concluding negotiations with China, and New Zealand securing an economic cooperation agreement with Chinese Taipei and concluding free trade agreement negotiations with Korea.

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