China-New Zealand Relations – Trade, Investment, and Diplomacy

Posted by Written by Arendse Huld Reading Time: 9 minutes

As two important economies in the Asia-Pacific, China and New Zealand have long held close trade and investment ties, as well as people-to-people exchanges. During a recent visit by New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins to China, the two countries made further commitments to collaborate in a variety of fields through the signing of a joint statement, which will help to improve the bilateral trade and investment landscape. In the wake of this visit, we look China-New Zealand relations, bilateral trade, and investment opportunities for New Zealand companies in the growing Chinese market.

On June 25, the Prime Minister of New Zealand Chris Hipkins started on a five-day trip to China, his first official state visit since taking office and the first visit by a New Zealand prime minister since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

During the visit, Hipkins met with several of China’s top officials, including President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Qiang, and Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Zhao Leji. 

Hipkins’ visit, which included the attendance of a trade delegation and saw him visit Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai, resulted in the publishing of a joint statement on the “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” between the two countries, as well as the signing of several bilateral cooperation documents on fields, such as science and technology education, agriculture, forestry, quarantine, food safety, and intellectual property rights. 

China-New Zealand relations

China and New Zealand officially established diplomatic relations in 1972. Since then, the relationship has developed on a basis of mutual respect and benefit, becoming important trade and investment partners. 

New Zealand has engaged in a series of “firsts” with regard to its relationship with China. It was the first developed country to complete negotiations with China on its accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, and the first developed country to negotiate and sign a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with China, which came into effect in 2008. It was also the first developed country to apply to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which it joined in 2015. 

The two countries have deepened ties in particular through the development of tourism and education exchange. China is New Zealand’s second-largest source of tourists and the largest source of international students. 

China-New Zealand bilateral trade

China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner for trade in goods, both in terms of imports and exports. According to data from China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), bilateral trade in 2022 reached almost US$25.2 billion, an increase of 1.8 percent from the previous year. Of this, Chinese exports to New Zealand reached US$9.2 billion, growing 7.4  percent year-on-year, while imports from New Zealand reached almost US$16 billion, a slight decrease of 1.1 percent year-on-year. 

China’s main exports to New Zealand are products, such as electronics, machinery, and textiles. 

New Zealand’s Top Imports from China, 2022
Product  Value (US$) 
Electrical machinery and equipment and parts thereof; sound recorders and reproducers, television image and sound recorders and reproducers, and parts and accessories of such articles  2.3 billion 
Machinery, mechanical appliances, nuclear reactors, boilers; parts thereof  2.1 billion 
Vehicles other than railway or tramway rolling stock, and parts and accessories thereof  964.7 million 


Furniture; bedding, mattresses, mattress supports, cushions and similar stuffed furnishings; lamps and lighting fittings, not elsewhere specified or included; illuminated signs, illuminated nameplates and the like; prefabricated buildings  741.3 million 
Articles of iron or steel  603.4 million 
Source: ITC Trade Map 

New Zealand’s top exports to China are mainly agricultural and forestry products, such as dairy, wood and wood products, and meat. 

New Zealand’s Top Exports to China, 2022
Product  Value (US$) 
Dairy produce; birds’ eggs; natural honey; edible products of animal origin, not elsewhere specified or included  4.3 billion 


Meat and edible meat offal  2.4 billion 
Wood and articles of wood; wood charcoal  2 billion 
Preparations of cereals, flour, starch or milk; pastrycooks’ products  803.6 million 
Edible fruit and nuts; peel of citrus fruit or melons  556.8 million 
Source: ITC Trade Map 

China-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement 

New Zealand was the first developed country to sign an FTA with China. The China-New Zealand FTA entered into force in 2008 and was amended in 2022 “to align it with the latest trade policies, and business practices in areas of e-commerce, government procurement, environment and trade, and competition.” 

The FTA has eliminated tariffs for over 99 percent of New Zealand goods exported to China, and all of Chinese goods exported to New Zealand. Some of the remaining tariffs on New Zealand dairy products will continue to be phased out by 2024. The 2022 amendment further reduced tariffs on New Zealand products, such as wood and paper products. 

In addition to cutting tariffs, the FTA also provides robust dispute mechanisms, reduces administrative procedures for bilateral trade, and improves market access in both countries. 

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership 

China and New Zealand are member countries of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a regional trade agreement encompassing 15 economies accounting for around one-third of the world’s GDP and population. 

Under the RCEP, tariffs will be eliminated on around 92 percent of goods, implemented progressively over the next 20 years, in accordance with each party’s Schedule of Tariff Commitments. This will allow participating countries to gain preferential market access with each other. 

There is a significant overlap between the RCEP and the New Zealand-China FTA, as the FTA has already removed tariffs on the vast majority of goods traded between the two countries. However, according to the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, under the RCEP, New Zealand services exporters and investors will be able to benefit from market access commitments from countries that are not members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), such as China. 

In addition, the RCEP has helped to reduce red tape for the trade of certain products, such as dairy, further facilitating bilateral trade. 

China-New Zealand investment 

Chinese FDI in New Zealand in 2021 reached US$225 million, with the direct investment stock reaching US$3.1 billion at the end of the year. Meanwhile, New Zealand’s FDI in China amounted to US$20 million, with the direct investment stock reaching US$1.6 billion at the end of 2021.

New Zealand’s main investments in China are in forestry, light manufacturing, textiles, metallurgy, food processing, pharmaceuticals, and laptop computers, among other sectors. China’s main investments in New Zealand are in dairy, agriculture and animal husbandry, R&D and production of health products, environment protection, R&D and manufacturing of home appliances, maintenance and manufacturing of aircraft, and tourism and hospitality. 

According to MOFCOM, in 2021, Chinese companies successfully signed 13 new project contracts valued at a total of US$397 million. There was a total of 571 Chinese laborers in New Zealand at the end of 2021. 

The large-scale projects signed in 2021 included China Communications Construction Co’s contracting of the Auckland Railway electrification project and an apartment project undertaken by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation in North Shore, Auckland. 

Bilateral investment treaty 

China and New Zealand have signed a bilateral investment treaty (BIT), which provides fundamental protections for investors and their investments from both contracting countries in each other’s territories. The BIT, which came into force in 1988, includes a “most-favored nation” (MFN) clause, which requires both contracting countries to extend the same rights to investors from the other contracting country as those afforded to investors from their own country. 

The following types of investments are protected under the BIT: 

  • Movable and immovable property and other property rights, such as mortgages, usufruct, lien, or pledges;  
  • Share, stock, debenture, and similar interests in companies; 
  • Title or claim to money or to any contract having a financial value;  
  • Copyright, industrial property rights (such as patents for inventions, trademarks, and industrial design), know-how, technical processes, trade names, and goodwill; and
  • Business concessions conferred by law or under contract, including any concession to search for, cultivate, extract or exploit natural resources. 

The BIT also guarantees the right for investors to repatriate the capital that they have invested or profits that they have raised to their home country and provides a dispute resolution mechanism, which includes arbitration in a neutral international court. 

The BIT works in tandem with the China-New Zealand FTA, which also includes clauses protecting investors from each country and commitments to boost bilateral investment. 

Key investment opportunities for New Zealand companies 

Dairy products 

New Zealand’s largest market in China is undoubtedly dairy. China is the world’s second-largest dairy consumer and the top importer of dairy products. Over the past couple of decades, the consumption of dairy in China has increased along with rising living standards, as consumers increasingly value nutritionally rich products, and in particular, view dairy as an important food for children. 

China also presents significant growth potential for foreign dairy firms, as it likely still hasn’t reached its full consumption potential. In 2021, Chinese people consumed an average of 14.4 kg of milk and dairy products per capita. This is an increase from 11.7 kg in 2013, but still around 10 kg below the average in developed countries, indicating that consumption will continue to grow as the economy expands. 

According to data from China Customs, China imported RMB 92.7 billion (approx. US$12.8 billion) worth of dairy products in 2022, of which over half (63.5 percent) was dried milk powder. It is worth noting that, by amount, dairy imports decreased by 17.1 percent in 2022; however, this corresponds to an overall low level of domestic demand in China due to the impact of COVID-19 restrictions.  

The implementation of the RCEP has reportedly facilitated the trade in dairy between New Zealand and China by simplifying certification and customs procedures and shortening waits for customs clearance. 

Some of the largest New Zealand dairy companies operating in China are Synalit, Yashili, and Fonterra. 

Wine and agricultural products 

As Chinese consumers increasingly value quality, New Zealand’s agricultural producers are presented with an opportunity to provide premium products to China’s growing and increasingly health-conscious middle class.

New Zealand’s agricultural products already enjoy a high level of recognition in China, where consumers perceive New Zealand products as safe and high-quality. In a recent survey conducted by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE), 88 percent of respondents in China said they would consider buying New Zealand products in their next grocery shop. In addition, Chinese consumers rated New Zealand products above French and Italian products for key attributes, including that they are “premium, ethical and nutritious”. 

Examples of New Zealand products that are prized in China include manuka honey, for which China has become one of the main export markets. Comvita, New Zealand’s largest producer of manuka honey, signed a new deal with Olé, a premium supermarket chain in China, during Hipkins’ recent visit to China. 

Meanwhile, while New Zealand’s wine exports to China may not reach the volume of its larger neighbor Australia, China’s growing demand for high-quality wines means that New Zealand winemakers still have ample opportunity in the market. New Zealand is among the top 10 wine exporters to China, with the export value of New Zealand wine to China reaching almost NZ$2 billion (approx. US$1.2 billion) in 2022. 

Sports, fitness, and outdoor activity 

As standards of living and wages continue to rise, Chinese people are spending more and more on sports, fitness, and outdoor leisure activities. With China’s middle class expected to continue expanding over the next few decades, the sports and fitness industry presents huge growth potential. 

Looking to both boost domestic consumption and improve the health of the population, the Chinese government has issued a series of policies to increase participation in a wide range of sports and fitness activities. For instance, a government plan seeks to grow the winter sports industry to a value of RMB 1 trillion (approx. US$138.1 billion) and attract 50 million people to participate in winter sports by 2025, while a national fitness plan aims to get 38.5 percent of the population regularly exercising by 2025 in part by improving accessibility of fitness facilities. 

Through a combination of growing demand and government incentives, China’s sports and fitness industry presents huge growth potential for foreign brands that can situate themselves in niche segments. 

Several New Zealand companies have already begun tapping into China’s booming sports and fitness industry. For instance, New Zealand fitness services company Les Mills has found significant success in China, selling the rights to its fitness classes to major Chinese retail gyms, such as Supermonkey. 

Deals signed during Hipkins’ visit to China 

The joint statement signed between China and New Zealand set forth a variety of new commitments, and included “their intention to strengthen bilateral trade, and expand cooperation in areas such as e-commerce, trade in services, green economy, and promote the establishment of a dialogue mechanism on new energy vehicles.”  

In addition to these commitments, New Zealand and China signed several documents committing to deepen cooperation in a variety of fields. The documents include the following: 

  • A strategic plan for promoting agricultural cooperation between 2023 and 2027; 
  • An export plan concerning phytosanitary requirements for the export of fresh kiwi fruits from New Zealand to China; 
  • A memorandum of arrangement on forestry cooperation; 
  • A China New Zealand food safety capacity building cooperation program;
  • An arrangement on a five-year roadmap for China-New Zealand science and technology cooperation between 2023 and 2027; 
  • An arrangement between the China National Intellectual Property Administration and the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand; and 
  • And agreement on the mutual recognition of academic qualifications in higher education. 

Although the full texts of these documents have not been released, the content appears to signal deepening cooperation across a range of issues that are important to China-New Zealand relations. Plans to address phytosanitary requirements for the export of New Zealand fruit to China and a food safety program indicate further collaboration on trade in agricultural products and foods, which will be of huge benefit to both New Zealand and Chinese agricultural industries and exporters.

Meanwhile, the arrangement between each country’s intellectual property authority may indicate further work on strengthening the intellectual property rights of New Zealand products and companies in China and vice versa, which would help to improve the bilateral investment environment.

Finally, the agreement on mutual recognition of academic qualifications may help to improve mobility between the two countries by facilitating procedures for job-seeking and work visa applications. The joint statement notably also encouraged increasing people-to-people exchanges now that international travel has restarted after the pandemic, with the two sides also committing to increase cooperation “in the areas of cultural, sporting, educational, air services, tourism, local government and academic links.”

Established in 2019, Dezan Shira & Associates’ ANZ (Australia & New Zealand) Desk under Ines Liu serves as a first point of contact for Australia and New Zealand investors wishing to do business in Asia. It not only facilitates the market entry of ANZ businesses into Asia but also provides long-term and reliable business advisory to ANZ companies and individuals across their whole business cycle. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter here to stay tuned for the latest investment updates and resources. To set up a call with our ANZ Desk, please contact us at

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