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New Zealand, Vietnam Agree to Increase Trade

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, left, and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key shake hands after a signing of agreements at the Government House pavilion in Auckland, New Zealand, Thursday March 19, 2015.

New Zealand and Vietnam, whose relations have been strained by allegations that Wellington spied on Hanoi, have announced ambitious new trade goals.

The announcement was made Thursday during a meeting in Wellington between New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

"New Zealand and Vietnam have agreed an ambitious target of doubling two-way goods and service trade to around $2.2 billion by 2020," said a statement by Key's office.

The New Zealand leader said the deal reflects the "growing relationship between two close regional partners."

"As we celebrate 40 years of diplomatic ties this year our relationship is in great health, as demonstrated by the visit of the largest delegation Vietnam has brought to New Zealand," Key said.

The two sides also signed a "cooperation arrangement on food safety and an air services agreement which will provide greater choices for New Zealanders flying to Vietnam," the statement added.

The visit is officially aimed at strengthening bilateral ties with Wellington, but comes at an awkward moment following a report by the New Zealand Herald.

The report, based on documents leaked by fugitive U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, said New Zealand spied on Vietnam and other nations to “help fill gaps in worldwide surveillance operations by the United States National Security Agency (NSA)."

Nicky Hager, a Wellington-based investigative reporter and one of the authors of the Herald report, told VOA that New Zealand ran a spying operation against Vietnam, a trading partner it has friendly ties with, as part of a surveillance alliance called “Five Eyes” alongside U.S., Britain, Canada, and Australia.

He added it shows the discrepancy between New Zealand’s secret and official foreign policies.

“What these documents show about New Zealand is that it is running a two track foreign policy. One foreign policy which is the public one, which is we are friendly with Asian countries, and we don’t have [an] enemy in the world. But it also runs a secret policy, which comes out of belonging to the U.S. intelligence alliance where we adopt other countries as enemies and spy on them even though publicly [we] call them our friends," he said.

The documents, published on March 11, revealed that Wellington accessed "internal communication networks from covert listening posts hidden in New Zealand embassies and high commission buildings.”

VOA’s Vietnamese Service has sought comment from the New Zealand Embassy in Vietnam, but it did not provide a response. Hanoi also has not publicly responded to the allegations.

It is unclear whether Dung will discuss the surveillance scandal with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

Snowden, who is living in Russia, leaked a large cache of classified NSA documents in 2013.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.