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NZ hopeful to conclude FTA by 2012

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key Monday said he is hopeful of concluding a free trade agreement (FTA) between India and New Zealand as he began a three-day visit to the country.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key Monday said he is hopeful of concluding a free trade agreement (FTA) between India and New Zealand as he began a three-day visit to the country.

Accompanied by senior ministers and officials, Key touched down in New Delhi Sunday night to begin his maiden visit to India that will also take him to Mumbai.

"We anticipate that by March 2012 the free trade agreement will conclude," Key told reporters here. "We have had four or five rounds of negotiations, we will have four-five more rounds," he said. He, however, added that the "quality" of the agreement mattered more - even if the negotiations took longer.

Key hoped that bilateral trade, which is currently around USD 1.2 billion, will double to around USD 3 billion by 2015 while emphasizing that  agricultural exports from New Zealand may help in bringing down food down in India. "Supply of food products, especially dairy goods from New Zealand, may play a part in controlling food inflation in India," he added.

Earlier in the day, Key and his spouse flew to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. The couple kissed for the cameras while seated on the bench made famous by Princess Diana. They were given a guided tour of the mausoleum.

"It was a monument built by a man who loved his wife dearly, and as much as I love my wife I don't think I'll be building a replica of this in Auckland somehow," Key said tongue-in-cheek.

In the evening, Key played a round of cricket with former New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground here.

On Tuesday, Key begins the official leg of the visit with a ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan, followed by a meeting with President Pratibha Patil and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna. He sits down for delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the evening where a slew of agreements related to trade and cultural exchanges are expected to be signed.

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