China's leader says Australia trade deal won't hurt New Zealand because demand is so strong

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Chinese President Xi Jinping said Thursday that his country’s trade deal with Australia won’t hurt neighbouring New Zealand because demand from the world’s No. 2 economy remains strong.

Xi spoke to media as he swung through New Zealand at the end of a month of courting international leaders. He went so far as to write an open letter to New Zealanders, describing their country as a “shining pearl” on the Pacific Ocean.

China and Australia signed a preliminary free-trade deal earlier this week. Xi said people have been asking him if that will have a negative impact on New Zealand, which signed a free trade agreement with China in 2008.

“China has 1.3 billion people and our market is huge,” he said. New Zealand’s dairy products and other exports including wool, beef and seafood remain very popular in China, Xi said.

“So worries that New Zealand does not have a market for its products in China are totally unnecessary,” he said. “On the contrary, possibly New Zealand will have to worry about the fact that there is more Chinese demand than you can possibly supply.”

Xi’s comments drew laughter and were among the less scripted moments of his carefully orchestrated visit.

Earlier, Xi had been greeted with an indigenous Maori welcome at Government House.

His motorcade, featuring the distinctive Red Flag limousine, drove past both supporters and protesters, some of whom held signs of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in China.

Trade between New Zealand and China has grown rapidly since the 2008 agreement which was China’s first free trade pact with a developed nation. China recently displaced Australia as New Zealand’s largest trading partner.

Some New Zealanders have become concerned about the growing level of Chinese investment in their country. Prime Minister John Key said Thursday he believes it benefits both countries.

“My view is we’ve got a lot of room to move yet before we would get anywhere near feeling uncomfortable,” he said.

This month, Xi hosted international leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing and attended the G-20 summit in Australia.