China and New Zealand are on track to sign a free trade agreement by the end of the year, which would be China’s first with a developed country, John Wood, New Zealand’s ambassador to the U.S., told GlobalAtlanta.

Mr. Wood was in Atlanta to attend a charity ball of the Australia New Zealand America Chamber of Commerce held on behalf of UNICEF that has been providing relief to children affected by the tsunami crisis in Southeast Asia.

During his visit here last month, he went to the headquarters of local companies with operations in New Zealand, including Coca-Cola Co. and Georgia-Pacific Corp. He visited the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council in Stone Mountain to discuss agricultural trade issues.

He was upbeat about trade relations with Georgia saying that New Zealand was refurbishing many of its aircraft with parts from Lockheed Martin Corp. in Marietta.

He also visited with U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who heads the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

Mr. Wood said that New Zealand was asked by China to enter into the free trade negotiations because of his country’s support for its entry into the World Trade Organization and its recognition of China as having a free market economy.

He also acknowledged that New Zealand’s “relative small size added a certain logic” to China’s request to begin the negotiations, which already have undergone two rounds.

“I think that we will get the agreement done this year and it is a challenge for us because whatever we succeed in negotiating with China will become a template that they will apply to negotiations with other developed countries. The Australians will follow behind us and then there will be a succession of developed economies, no doubt, trying to negotiate with China. But we will be the first,” he said.

He also said that New Zealand had acknowledged that China had a free market economy for the purpose of clarifying its competition law and that it also was one of the first developed countries to take such an initiative.

Mr. Wood said that he personally had lobbied on behalf of Australia’s free trade agreement with the United States last year once it was clear that New Zealand would not be included in an agreement with the U.S. and Australia.

“I spent a lot of time wearing out New Zealand shoe leather in the U.S. Congress supporting ratification,” he added. “But frankly we would have preferred to have negotiated an agreement together with the Australians but it is their sovereign right to decide to go it alone and they did, so we were compelled to go ahead and do the same.”

He also said that the current negotiations with the U.S. should set a high standard for free trade agreements because “we have a more open economy than the U.S. Trade liberalization and labor and environmental standards are not a problem for us. In fact, the U.S. well might have to struggle to keep up with New Zealand’s environmental standards.”

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