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NZ jumps at Myanmar trade boost

By Laura McQuillan

Heartened with movement in talks over trade at the East Asia Summit, Prime Minister John Key leaves Cambodia on Wednesday with his eye on expanding exports into Myanmar (Burma).

As the first New Zealand prime minister to visit the country, Mr Key will discuss potential business opportunities with President Thein Sein, with a focus on exports of agriculture, in a meeting set down for Thursday.

"It is actually arable land, it's a good place to grow things, it's a big population and it is going to get wealthier over time, so we see lots of opportunities there," Mr Key told reporters.

However, having elected a government for the first time in 50 years just two years ago, Myanmar is "really in its infancy", so the initial focus would be for big exporters such as Fonterra, Mr Key says.

"If you roll the clock forward 10 years' time, most of the leaders I talk to around the region think it will be an increasingly important market."

The visit follows Mr Key's talks in Cambodia on Tuesday with leaders involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), including US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

A fifteenth round of TPP talks is set down for Auckland next month and Mr Key is increasingly hopeful the deal can be signed off next year.

Much of its success hinges on bashing out a deal that's acceptable to the United States, which is demanding strict intellectual property rules, and New Zealand, which wants tariffs on agriculture exports abolished.

Mr Key also took part in the launch of a new 16-country trade bloc, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, comprising the 10 Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states, along with China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Key says the aim of that deal - an "alternative to the TPP" - is improved access for New Zealand businesses to Asian markets and a free-trade deal with Japan.

Negotiations over RCEP are expected to begin next year.

Meanwhile, Mr Key was also invited by Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to visit Moscow next year, where he hopes to finalise a drawn-out a free-trade deal.