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Nationalism ‘is not the way forward’: New Zealand minister calls for more trade relationships

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A general view of a Australian flag is seen outside the Great Hall of the People on April 9, 2013 in Beijing, China.

Feng Li | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Nationalism is not the way to go in diplomatic relations, New Zealand’s trade minister told CNBC as he called for more multilateral trade and ties worldwide.

In fact, the world needs to build up its “overall security” — especially now during the Covid-19 pandemic, Damien O’Connor told “Squawk Box Asia” on Wednesday, as part of CNBC’s coverage of World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda.

“Nationalism is not the way forward – we hope to build multilateral trade and diplomatic relationships across the world and play our part,” added O’Connor, who is also the country’s agriculture minister.

In the past few years, protectionism and nationalism have taken a front seat, as countries like the U.S. and some in Europe focus mainly on their domestic economies and issues, sometimes at the expense of cooperation and collaboration with others.

Experts have called the strained ties between the U.S. and China the new “Cold War,” as tensions spilled from the trade front to technology and other areas.

They have also warned the coronavirus pandemic will trigger more protectionist policies among countries, as they seek to limit the economic damage of the virus.

On Tuesday, New Zealand signed a trade agreement with China, which gives Kiwi exports greater access to the Asian economic giant. The deal paves the way for tariffs to be either removed or reduced on many New Zealand goods, ranging from dairy and seafood to timber.

Offer to mediate

The deal comes at a time when China is still embroiled in tense trade tensions with countries such as Australia and the U.S.

On the its timing, O’Connor noted: “It does send a really clear signal to the world that China, and ourselves of course, back trade agreements that are robust … that are backed by good laws.”

Relations between China and Australia have soured since last year after Canberra supported an international inquiry into China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, Beijing has for months targeted a growing list of imported products from Down Under — putting tariffs on wine and barley, and suspending beef imports.

New Zealand has offered to mediate a truce between both countries, saying that the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit this year could be an opportunity for New Zealand to bring both parties to the table, according to Reuters.

On New Zealand’s mediation offer, O’Connor said: “We have a mature … relationship with China, and we’ve always been able to raise issues of concern.”

“I can’t speak for Australia and the way it runs its diplomatic relationships but clearly if they were to follow us and … speak …(with) a little more diplomacy from time to time, and be cautious with wording… hopefully (they) can be in a similar situation,” he said

Meanwhile, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told CNBC on Monday that it will continue advocating for its national interests but would like to see strained relations with China improve.