Story: Britain, Europe and New Zealand

New Zealand’s historically vital relationship with Britain has lessened over time, particularly after Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973. However, links with Britain – and with the wider European Union – remained important in the 2000s.

Story by Martin Holland and Serena Kelly
Main image: New Zealand as Britain's South Pacific farm, 1946

Story summary

All images & media in this story

Relations with Britain and Europe in the 2000s

In the 2000s the European Union (EU) was an important ally for New Zealand, and was its third-largest export market, taking 16% of exports. New Zealand’s strongest links were with the western EU countries, particularly Britain, Germany and France.

Migration and culture

When the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, New Zealand became a British colony. Most European migrants to New Zealand were British, and British culture became dominant. Travel to Britain was common, even when it involved a long sea voyage. Many New Zealanders saw Britain as ‘home’, although this changed in the later 20th century when Britain became a less important trading partner and a stronger New Zealand identity developed.

Settlers from other European countries, including France, Germany and Dalmatia (Croatia), also arrived in New Zealand in the late 19th century. Italian, Greek, Scandinavian and Dutch migrants arrived after the Second World War, as did Germans from the later 20th century. However, government policy favoured British immigrants until 1975.


After refrigerated shipping was developed in the 1880s, New Zealand exported meat and dairy products, mostly to Britain. The ships that carried New Zealand exports returned bringing British manufactured goods.

After the Second World War New Zealand began to trade with more countries. Britain joined the European Economic Community (later European Union) in 1973, forcing New Zealand to find new trading partners. In the 2000s the EU was an important export market for New Zealand meat.

Political cooperation

New Zealand has had official diplomatic contact with the European Economic Community since 1961. In the 2000s in Wellington there were embassies of eight EU member countries and the EU Delegation.

The European Union and New Zealand cooperated on issues such as the environment, science, education, and promoting development and human rights in the Pacific. New Zealand’s policies on these were often similar to those of European countries.

How to cite this page:

Martin Holland and Serena Kelly, 'Britain, Europe and New Zealand', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 13 June 2024)

Story by Martin Holland and Serena Kelly, published 20 June 2012