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June 27, 2017

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China's Premier Li arrives in New Zealand for talks

WELLINGTON -- China's premier has arrived in New Zealand for high-level talks at a time that both countries are pushing to expand free trade.

Premier Li Keqiang arrived at Wellington Airport on Sunday, where he was greeted at the military terminal by New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English.

The premier stepped off his plane, gave a quick wave toward media and then stepped into a waiting car. His motorcade left for Premier House where he was attending a dinner.

As the motorcade left the airport, the premier was greeted by Chinese well-wishers wearing red shirts and holding banners and the flags of both China and New Zealand. Unlike on some previous visits by Chinese leaders, there weren't any visible protesters.

Li plans to be in the country until Wednesday. As well as a bilateral meeting with English, the premier is planning to visit a factory and view a photography exhibition.

The premier traveled to New Zealand after visiting Australia, where he warned against protectionism and said China wanted to expand its trading relationship.

New Zealand has also been pushing to expand free trade. Last week English announced a goal to have free trade agreements cover 90 percent of exports by 2030, up from just over 50 percent at the moment.

As part of that plan, New Zealand will spend tens of millions of dollars opening a new embassy in Ireland, a new high commission in Sri Lanka, and targeting barriers it considers are holding back trade.

The approach from China and New Zealand stands in contrast to that of the U.S., where President Donald Trump has pulled out of a planned Pacific free-trade agreement and has expressed skepticism about other such agreements.

China and Australia represent New Zealand's largest export markets. China buys huge quantities of milk powder from New Zealand, which is used in high-end infant formula.

China and New Zealand signed a free-trade agreement in 2008. English said recently the agreement is working well but needs some fine-tuning.

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