Our relationship with China

New Zealand and China have a relationship that started in the 1840’s. Since New Zealand and China established diplomatic relations in December 1972, the relationship has developed rapidly, particularly in recent years.

The first Chinese immigrant to New Zealand is thought to have been Appo Hocton, who arrived in Nelson in 1842. The first large scale influx of Chinese to New Zealand occurred in the 1860s, initially for gold-mining. Official contact began in 1912 with trade, missionary, immigration and other links but this came to a standstill in 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was formed. Today we have tens of thousands of Chinese students and tourists coming to New Zealand each year, and visits between political leaders and heads of state take place regularly.

China is New Zealand’s biggest export market and the New Zealand–China Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed in 2008 was China's first FTA with a developed country. China is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and its vast population and growing middle class represent huge potential.

The Four Firsts

China attributes “four firsts” to New Zealand:

  1. In 1997 New Zealand became the first country to agree to China’s accession to the WTO by concluding the bilateral negotiations component of that process.
  2. New Zealand was the first developed country to recognise China as a market economy.
  3. New Zealand was the first developed country to commence FTA negotiations with China. In November 2004, New Zealand and China launched FTA negotiations.
  4. In April 2008, New Zealand became the first country to successfully conclude Free Trade Agreement negotiations with China.

Education and tourism

Education and tourism links have been growing strongly in the past decade. From early beginnings when both countries offered an exchange programme for three students each, China is now our largest source of foreign students.  Almost 30,000 Chinese currently study in New Zealand.

Tourism between our two countries has also increased rapidly.  Our first diplomats had to walk into China after flying to Hong Kong because China had no international air links.  There are now multiple daily flights between New Zealand and China.  China is the second, and most rapidly-growing, source of tourists to New Zealand (behind Australia), with more than 300,000 visitors.

China Capable public sector project

 China Capable project logo

The New Zealand Government has recently set up the 'China Capable public sector programme'. This programme aims to attract, develop, retain, and deploy China expertise across New Zealand's public sector agencies.

China is New Zealand’s second largest trading partner and is different from our traditional trading partners in many respects, including culture and language. Therefore the China Capable public sector project aims to develop China expertise across our public sector agencies. This is an all-of-government project that is currently being led by MFAT.


2014 statistics

Total trade in goods 

$18.7 billion


Exports to China

$10 billion 

Top exports: milk powder, logs, mutton and lamb

Imports from China

$8.7 billion

Top imports: computers, telephones and cellphones, and office, kitchen and bedroom furniture


US$10.4 trillion

GDP per capita US$7,589 (NZ GDP per capita is US$43,837)
GDP growth  7.4%  

We have a strong and growing trade relationship with China. The NZ-China FTA was projected to increase our export revenue by between $225-$350 million each year. However this was rapidly exceeded, with export revenue increasing by $1 billion in the first year, and growth continuing. A target to reach $20 billion in two-way goods trade by 2015 has already been revised up to $30 billion by 2020. 

New Zealand–China FTA

The New Zealand-China FTA was New Zealand’s biggest trade deal since the Closer Economic Relations agreement with Australia in the 1980s. It cements the trading relationship between our two countries, and frees up business for exporters, the service sector and investors. By 2016, nearly tariffs on nearly all products exported by New Zealand will have reached zero, with core dairy products transitioning to full free trade in 2024 for milk powders, and two years earlier for butter, cheese and liquid milk and cream.

Trade in services

China is New Zealand’s largest education market, with close to 30,000 Chinese students coming to study in New Zealand each year. Chinese tourists numbered more than 300,000 in the year ending April 2015.  China is New Zealand’s second-largest source of visitors.  While education and tourism are the biggest service exports, New Zealand also exports our growing ‘knowledge economy’ services such as design, information technology, film and TV, and food safety.  New Zealand’s overall services exports to China increased by 20% in 2014, to NZ$1.8 billion.


Investment between New Zealand and China including the Hong Kong SAR has been growing strongly in recent years. Some recent high profile Chinese investments into New Zealand include Chinese investments in Envirowaste and Waste Management, Fisher and Paykel Appliances, Synlait, and PGG Wrightson.  Large New Zealand investments in China include Fonterra and Fletcher Building's Formica Group.

Free trade agreements with China

We have two free trade agreements with China:

We're also negotiating a regional free trade agreement that includes China:

NZ Inc China strategy


NZ inc China Strategy
NZ Inc China Strategy document


The China Strategy, launched by Prime Minister John Key in February 2012, sets an ambitious five-year plan for our relationship with China. This includes stronger political ties, doubling trade in goods, growing tourism by at least 60% and education by 20%, improving investment opportunities and collaborating on science and technology.

Find out more about the NZ Inc China strategy


New Zealand no longer has an official aid programme in China — this stopped in 2005 — however we still contribute $500,000 a year through the Development Project Fund for activities to reduce poverty. The New Zealand Embassy in Beijing runs a small grant scheme of NZ$80,000 a year, focusing on the poorer, inland western provinces.

China and New Zealand now partner for aid and development work in places of common interest, such as the Pacific. This reflects China's significant economic development and emerging role as an active donor, and New Zealand's focus on its Pacific neighbours.

New Zealand and China are currently working together in the Cook Islands to replace the water supply system on Rarotonga to improve water quality, reliability and drought resilience.


Recent official visits

New Zealand to China

  • May 2015: Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully travelled to Beijing and Guangzhou for official engagements, and to open the new premises of the New Zealand Consulate General in Guangzhou.
  • April 2015: Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce officially opened the Shanghai office of Primary Collaboration New Zealand (PCNZ) – a coalition of New Zealand food and beverage companies pooling their expertise in China.
  • February 2015: Trade Minister Tim Groser travelled to China for meetings relating to the NZ-China FTA and discussions with his trade counterpart, Minister Gao Hucheng.
  • January 2015: Associate Immigration Minister Craig Foss visited Immigration New Zealand’s Shanghai office.

China to New Zealand


Alt text here...
Chinese President Xi in New Zealand in 2014, with Prime Minister Key and Ma'a Nonu


  • May 2015: Party Secretary of Guangdong Province, Hu Chunhua met Prime Minister John Key, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray MccCully and the Economic Development and Māori Development Ministers.
  • November 2014: President Xi Jinping made a state visit to New Zealand. He met with Governor-General Jerry Mateparae and held talks with Prime Minister John Key.
  • September 2014: Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi met with Prime Minister John Key, Trade Minister Tim Groser and members of the Opposition during a visit hosted by his counterpart Murray McCully. 
  • July 2014: Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Geenral Fan Changlong led a delegation of senior officers from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and China’s Ambassador to New Zealand Wang Lutong. General Fan met with Prime Minister John Key, and held formal talks with Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman. 

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