U.S. ambassador to discuss free trade deal with New Zealand

Newly appointed U.S. Ambassador William McCormick pledged Wednesday to hold discussions on a free trade pact with New Zealand as he made his first calls on senior political leaders. Speaking after a short meeting with Trade Minister Phil Goff, the ambassador said the United States "has always been willing to talk and willing to enter into discussion on a free trade agreement and we continue to look at it as an issue."

New Zealand has been locked out of free trade agreement talks, partly because of its anti-nuclear policy which has strained relations with the United States for 20 years, while staunch U.S. supporter and near neighbor Australia has negotiated a deal.

Asked whether the nuclear policy was an issue for the U.S. administration in considering free trade talks, McCormick told reporters: "We've never addressed the two of them as being in the same category."

"A free trade agreement is a very complicated issue so there is a lot of discussion yet to take place," he added.

He said terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were issues he would be discussing with the government, areas where "New Zealand has been very helpful to us and we look forward to its continuing participation."

Goff said the pair had discussed world trade talks, calling them "the key (trade) issue for the United States and New Zealand at the present time."

He said he told McCormick there was "considerable support" for a free trade deal between the two nations "in the (U.S.) corporate sector and in Congress, and we would like to see that initiative from the (U.S.) administration."

Goff said a deal "will happen," and he hopes it will come "sooner rather than later."

Earlier in the day, McCormick faced a traditional challenge from bare-chested Maori warriors when he formally presented his credentials to Governor General Dame Silvia Cartwright at Government House in the capital, Wellington, reports the AP. I.L.