New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra has praised the achievement of the New Zealand government in making rapid progress towards establishing a free trade agreement (FTA) with China.

Chairman Henry van der Heyden said Fonterra was a strong supporter of a comprehensive FTA with China and praised the efforts of the government in bedding down a trade and economic framework in a relatively short timeframe.

“A free trade agreement will underpin Fonterra’s partnership approach to the Chinese dairy industry and ensure improved access to the world’s most dynamic and fastest growing economy,” he said.

Prime minister Helen Clark and trade minister Jim Sutton have announced details of the government’s progress, which includes the finalisation of a Trade and Economic Framework after only four months of discussions and the launch of a joint FTA feasibility study. It is expected that negotiations on a comprehensive FTA will get underway early next year.

China is now Fonterra’s fourth-largest export market by value, generating in excess of NZ$300m (US$192.2m) last season.  The bulk of Fonterra’s sales in China are generated from the supply of ingredients to companies manufacturing dairy products. A number of Fonterra’s consumer brands such as Anchor, Chesdale and Anlene are sold in China as well.  Fonterra formally opened a new office in Shanghai on 29 March 2004, the new head office of New Zealand Milk in China.