On page six of the Labour-NZ First coalition deal, under the innocuous heading ‘other’, is an agreement to work towards a free trade agreement (FTA) with Russia. Given Winston Peters’ previous criticism of the National Government over its suspension of an FTA with the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union, the move should hardly come as a surprise.
For Mr Peters, a past cabinet minister in both Labour and National-led governments, the policy continues his somewhat maverick brand of politics. In May last year he addressed the British House of Lords, imploring the UK public to be ‘bold’ and ditch the European Union (EU). And, following Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential election, he labelled the result ‘a dramatic lesson’ for the political establishment.
The most puzzling aspect of Peters’ plan for a Russia FTA, however, is its timing. New Zealand’s diplomats are currently working toward a lucrative free trade agreement with the EU, which happens to be a more significant trade partner than Russia. Although Prime Minister Jacinda Adern has come out publicly to say the EU deal—not the Russian FTA—is the priority, the announced policy is worth exploring because it breaks ranks with like-minded governments.