On Aug. 16-18 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held talks in Moscow with his counterpart from New Zealand, Murray McCully. The negotiations might be a sign that the period of crisis in bilateral relations is over.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, right, and Foreign Minister of New Zealand Murray McCully meet for talks in Moscow. Photo: RIA Novosti

Murray McCully, the foreign minister of New Zealand, visited Moscow last week at the invitation of his Russian colleague Sergei Lavrov. The ministers discussed steps to restore cooperation and increase cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.

As a result of the negotiations, the two sides also agreed to work on strengthening their economic ties (both trade and investment), as well as coordinating initiatives in the humanitarian area.

"New Zealand is our long-standing partner in the Asia-Pacific region," Lavrov said. "We have expressed an interest in restoring full-fledged cooperation on a mutually beneficial basis. Over the past two years, our relations have stalled, becoming a hostage of short-term political considerations, which have nothing to do with the interests of deepening our bilateral ties."

The goals of New Zealand’s foreign policy

New Zealand’s foreign policy has been oriented towards Washington and London since the time it achieved its independence in the middle of the 20th century.

During the period of the Cold War, the country continued to support the West and in 1951 participated in the formation of the ANZUS collective security agreement, which bound Australia and New Zealand (and, separately, Australia and the U.S.) to cooperate on military matters in the Pacific Ocean region.

During this time, however, New Zealand became not a military power, but rather an economic one, proving the success of the capitalist model of development. Since that time the country was able to achieve significant results in improving the quality and level of living of its population. For instance,  according to the data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the GDP per capita in New Zealand reached $36,000 in 2015.

While in the political and military area, the country is still oriented toward cooperating with the U.S. and Australia, in an economic sphere it aims to promote the ideals of free trade, which is a strategic goal set by the currently ruling conservative government in 2008.

This objective is the reason why New Zealand is participating in initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Pacific Islands Forum, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) as well as in the sessions of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Also read: "Russia looks for ways to boost its role in Asia-Pacific"

Where do the interests of Russia and New Zealand coincide?

Diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and New Zealand were established during the period of the Second World War, back in 1944. Notwithstanding the external limitations, gradual cooperation between the countries took place. The reason for that was that is easy to discern: in the 1970-80s New Zealand was ruled by social-democratic forces that supported Soviet initiatives in nuclear disarmament.

In the beginning of the 21st century Moscow and Wellington worked together in a variety of regional forums, such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the ASEAN’s East Asia Summit. Today, the two countries have similar positions on such international issues as ensuring security in the Asia-Pacific region, resolving the crisis in the Middle East and countering the global terrorist threat.

The economic dimension of the countries’ relations is quite limited. In 2015 the trade turnover between Russia and New Zealand fell from $664 million in 2014 to $515 million, according to data from the International Trade Center. This trend has the potential to be reversed as many New Zealand’s producers are interested in the Russian market with some of them already working in the country. For example, Lanocorp Pacific Limited, a skincare brand from New Zealand, is already working in Russia.

Restoring full-fledged cooperation           

What is hampering Moscow and Wellington in the attempt to reset their relations is the Ukrainian question. New Zealand supported the Western sanctions on Russia in 2014 and the country’s local producers were hit by Russian retaliatory food sanctions. For the past two years, relations appear to have been frozen.

Even if the current government in New Zealand and its Prime Minister John Key — who is also the chair of the International Democrat Union — are not ready to abandon their position with regard to the crisis in Ukraine, the negotiations in Moscow have shown that the potential for boosting bilateral relations in the humanitarian sphere and education does exist.

The question on Ukraine has also stalled the negotiations on the formation of a free trade zone between New Zealand and the Customs Union, which has now evolved to become the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). This initiative meets the interests of New Zealand’s producers and there is hope that this project will be brought to the table once again in the future.

All in all, the talks in Moscow have shown that both sides are willing to make efforts to find common ground on a number of regional and international issues and strengthen their bilateral ties. What is more, these talks have once again proved Russia’s growing diplomatic prowess in the Asia-Pacific region.