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New Zealand and the European Union will look at ways to deepen their relationship, which may lead to a free trade deal, Prime Minister John Key says.
The EU, which covers 28 states in Europe, has opened the door for a free trade agreement for the first time, among options to deepen its trade and economic relationship with New Zealand to consider over the coming year. Key met with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman van Rompuy during the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague.
"This is a significant development. We've always said a free trade agreement is the obvious next step," Key said. "We're not there yet, but the issue is now on the agenda - and that's a step forward. We're going to come back to this in 2015 to take decisions on what to do next."
New Zealand lifted exports to the EU 3.7 percent to $4.72 billion in the year ended Jan. 31, while imports from the region rose 11 percent to $8.2 billion in the same period, according to government figures.
The EU will also upgrade its diplomatic mission in Wellington, New Zealand with its first resident ambassador.
The overtures come as New Zealand deepens its economic relations in Asia and China in particular. New Zealand is engaged in two pan-Asia free trade negotiations, the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.