1 of 2 | New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said Monday he was in favor of New Zealand becoming a republic some day but for him, full implementation of a February 2022 free trade agreement with Britain was a higher priority. File photo by Ben McKay/EPA-EFE
May 1 (UPI) -- New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said Monday he would like to see his country become independent from Britain as he departed Auckland on the 24-hour flight to London to attend the coronation of King Charles III this weekend.
Hipkins made the comments to reporters ahead of the visit in which he will meet British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to fast-forward the two countries' February 2022 Free Trade Agreement which will grant duty-free access for meat and dairy products, New Zealand's top exports.
"Ideally, in time, New Zealand will become a fully independent country, will stand on our own two feet in the world, as we by and large do now," said Hipkins who is the leader of the ruling New Zealand Labor Party.
Pointing out that his republican leanings were long-standing and well-known, he said it was not a priority or something he intended to push for adding, "I don't believe it's the right time to do it."
"I don't think that swapping out the governor-general for some other form of head of state is necessarily an urgent priority right now, though."
Hipkins said a shift to a republic "is something for New Zealanders to instigate a discussion on" adding that there isn't "a groundswell of support" for the move at the moment.
When New Zealanders were surveyed in February 2022 about the country becoming a republic when Queen Elizabeth II's reign ended, around half preferred to remain part of the Commonwealth, with slightly more than a third wanting independence.
Hipkins instead said the economic benefits to New Zealand of the free trade agreement, which he planned to dsicuss with Sunak, made it a high priority.
Estimates put the boost the deal with Britain would provide to New Zealand's goods exports at 50%, together with a surge in GDP of $617 million a year, while slashing tariffs by $23 million.
"Trade and securing improved trade access for New Zealand exporters is a foreign policy priority for me this year and it will be a big focus of my visit ahead of the coronation itself," he said.
"Virtually all our current trade will be duty-free from entry into force, including duty-free quotas for key products like meat, butter and cheese. Therefore gaining entry into force as soon as possible will be a focus of the trip."
In addition to trade, Hipkins said his meeting with Sunak in Downing Street would focus on an enhanced working holiday scheme for Britons, the war in Ukraine and Britain's role in the Indo-Pacific.
Hipkins is scheduled with New Zealand Defence Force personnel who are training Ukrainian troops outside London and announce additional defense commitments to support Ukraine.