WELLINGTON, March 8 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand and the European Union (EU) look set to launch negotiations on a free trade agreement this year after completing scoping discussions, New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay said Wednesday.
McClay and EU Trade Commissioner Cecelia Malmstrom agreed the completion of almost two years of joint scoping discussions after a meeting in Brussels, McClay said in a statement from his office.
The significant milestone meant the FTA process now entered a new phase, where the European Commission and New Zealand would seek respective mandates to commence negotiations.
"Today's meeting was an important demonstration of our commitment to launch negotiations as soon as possible in 2017," McClay said.
"New Zealand and the EU both recognize there are substantial benefits to be gained from free trade, and we are now one step closer to a high-quality, comprehensive FTA that can deliver great outcomes for our citizens."
McClay and Malmstrom also agreed that officials should look at ways to engage the public on trade issues.
The EU undertook a number of trade events during negotiations that might suit New Zealand, he said.
"With this in mind, I have invited Commissioner Malmstrom to visit New Zealand later this year. The Commissioner has accepted this invitation," McClay said.