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China Signs Historic Free Trade Deal New Zealand

China and New Zealand signed a sweeping free trade agreement Monday, the rising economic giant's first such pact with a developed country.

The deal, signed by Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming and his New Zealand counterpart, Phil Goff, will give New Zealand access to one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who attended the signing with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, said the agreement is the result of three years of negotiations.

"The signing of this agreement is a very significant achievement for New Zealand. It opens up new opportunities for businesses looking to engage with, or grow their existing links with, China," Clark said in a statement.

Wen said he believes the deal will bring "our friendly relationship even closer and deliver tangible benefits to both our countries."

The deal goes into effect on Oct. 1, pending ratification by New Zealand's Parliament. It calls for eliminating tariffs on 96 percent of New Zealand's exports to China over time, according to a New Zealand government statement.

The island country of 4.1 million people said it hopes the agreement will make it a long-term trade partner with China and its population of 1.3 billion, the world's largest.

Trade between China and New Zealand totals more than $6.1 billion a year, with Chinese exports making up about 75 percent, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Under the agreement, 31 percent of New Zealand's exports to China will be tariff-free by 2013.

Tariffs on dairy products, a big New Zealand export, will take longer to phase out, but almost all of the country's current exports to China will be tariff free by 2019.

Farm output makes up half of New Zealand's annual economic production.

The agreement also covers the service sector and allows up to 1,800 Chinese workers to enter New Zealand each year.

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