The country’s deputy prime minister, Winston Peters, said Britain’s four-decade membership of the EU meant it was not ready to properly engage in talks once it was able to pursue independent agreements.
In a frank assessment of the state of any UK-New Zealand trading agreement, Mr Peters said he was “very frustrated” over the pace of talks, and claimed Theresa May’s government had allowed “inertia” to set in while focused on Brexit.
It follows a warning that Boris Johnson’s promise of lucrative post-Brexit trading partnerships is on course to fail due to years wasted while unable to agree what Britain wants from its negotiations – giving the upper hand to countries the UK is in talks with.
Speaking to Times Radio, Mr Peters said: “We’ve had to look offshore for a long time and so we are seriously match-fit when it comes to that, in a way that I don’t believe that the UK is, because the UK has been locked up in the EU all these years.
“And in terms of their trading skills and finesse and their firepower – without being critical – they’ve never had an outing lately.
“They’ve never had a test, so to speak. It’s like coming into an Ashes contest when you haven’t played for 30 years – it’s the same thing in the UK when it comes to this.”
He added: “Here we are out here in the South Pacific, ourselves and Australia, and we believe we’re totally match-fit and ready to go.”
Ahead of a second round of trade talks with New Zealand in October after initial discussions last month, he also insisted: “We just need the British to realise that you can do more than one deal at a time.”
His intervention follows an unlikely flashpoint in the UK-Japan trade talks, with negotiations reported to have hit a stumbling block of Stilton – after international trade secretary Liz Truss insisted on making blue cheese part of the talks.
Both governments had hoped to finalise a deal last week but the Japanese delegation returned home despite apparently having reached a “consensus” in all major areas of a prospective agreement.
A Department for International Trade (DIT) spokesperson said: “We are excited by the possibility of a free trade deal, the first round of talks with New Zealand were positive and productive.
“We’re a step closer to reaching a comprehensive trade deal to boost trade and investment between our like-minded economies.
“DIT is focused on securing free trade agreements that secure benefits for every region and nation of the UK and talks are up and running.”