ABU DHABI // New open-skies deals with the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait underpin a five-year strategy by New Zealand to strengthen trade, investment and partnerships with GCC countries.
The new agreements negotiated with Qatar and Kuwait, in addition to the enhancement of an existing deal with the UAE to allow "full open skies" - or unrestricted air service between the two countries - is part of a wider plan that aims to increase trade in relation to education, food security and renewable energy, among others.
"The two-way scope is enormous," said Malcolm Millar, New Zealand's ambassador to the UAE, who yesterday likened the five-year strategy to that of Abu Dhabi's 2030 vision.
"We have really complementary economies," he said. "The things New Zealand is good at producing tend to be the areas where the GCC is a little weaker and vice versa. The theory is if you put those two things together there are advantages for both sides. This is a win-win relationship."
The air services agreements reached with the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait will pave the way for more direct flights to and from the GCC region, he said.
"For example, there are already 28 Emirates flights each week from Dubai to New Zealand. This will vastly increase. Every time a flight lands, that is great news for both sides."
This also opens up opportunities for GCC airlines to use New Zealand as a stepping stone to other flight markets in Asia and South America, he said.
The GCC is one of New Zealand's largest trading partners, with exports from the country topping NZ$1.5 billion (Dh4.29 bn) last year.
New Zealand's exports to the GCC have grown at an average of 10 per cent each year over the past three years, said Mr Millar.
"The GCC is one of the fastest-growing regions for us in terms of trade and we also see them as one of the fast-growing regions in terms of political ties as well."
One of the ways his country could benefit the GCC, Mr Millar said, was the export of food and beverages. "In New Zealand over the past few years we have seen huge growth in the food and beverage market. We produce far more food than we are every going to eat and we export the highest percentage of food in the world, per capita.
"This is good news this end because the GCC, particularly the UAE, is very much about being a tourism hub but, at the end of the day, you have to not only feed a large population but also feed those tourists. The UAE is limited in terms of farming resources, so where does that food come from? That makes New Zealand very well placed to support that."
The New Zealand government is also teaming up with GCC countries to address food security and is looking at their needs, such as establishing import pathways or developing home-grown solutions.
GCC counties have also been in talks with New Zealand on ways to develop renewable energy resources, said Mr Millar. Seventy seven per cent of New Zealand's electricity comes from renewable sources such as geothermal and hydro power.
Education is also a cornerstone of the relationship between New Zealand and the GCC, with an emerging bilateral market for international students and education business. "Last year, for example, we had some young sheikhs come visit us for a month to do outdoor education and work experience. We are now talking about how we can do programmes like that for normal Emiratis," he said.
About 6,000 GCC students now study in New Zealand each year.
Mr Millar added: "I would like to see some of the issues that concern the GCC the most - food security, education, innovation, the growth and diversification of the economy - I would like to see New Zealand providing some of those solutions."
Abu Dhabi picked New Zealand as a model economy in its Economic Vision 2030.