New Zealand is moving ahead to forge more links with other countries around the world at a time when more people than ever before want to not just visit but move permanently to the country.

The latest figures show that more than 3.68 million travellers passing through international airports in December, January and February, an 8.7% increase on the same period last year and a record number of cruise ships also visited the country, some 139 with 312,000 passengers.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully has announced that New Zealand will open an Embassy in Dublin, Ireland and a High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and is working on more air agreements to enhance connections.

‘New Zealand and Ireland enjoy a very warm relationship which is underpinned by our shared values. We work closely together on issues such as climate change, disarmament, and human rights, and are also both members of the Small Advanced Economies Initiative,’ said McCully.

‘Having an embassy in Dublin will enable us to build on and strengthen this relationship. Ireland is an important member of the European Union, so the Embassy will also support New Zealand’s interests in Europe, including as they relate to the negotiation of a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU,’ he explained.

He added that the New Zealand Government has committed $4.8 million in capital funding to establish the Embassy and a further $9.1 million to cover operating costs over the next four years.

McCully also explained that he wants to strengthen the relationship with Sri Lanka. ‘It is a growing economy, has a major dairy market and has expressed its interest in learning further about farming from New Zealand. Sri Lanka offers increasing value and diversity to our exporters, and is a trade gateway to a fast growing part of Asia,’ he added.

New Zealand has also enhanced its air service agreement with China by 20%, which means that New Zealand and Chinese airlines can now operate 59 passenger services per week.

‘We’ve seen strong growth with visitors from China and we expect this to continue. China is our second largest source of visitors after Australia, so it’s important that we have the appropriate agreements in place to support this,’ said Transport Minister Simon Bridges.

‘The amendment will also allow additional airlines to enter the market, ensuring a competitive environment that will benefit New Zealand and Chinese travellers. Officials also have the opportunity to further expand the agreement later this year if certain conditions are met,’ he pointed out.

‘Chinese airlines can now operate between airports in New Zealand during the course of their international service, allowing airports that do not receive flights by Chinese airlines the opportunity to do so. We will continue to work towards an open skies agreement with China,’ he added.

Five Chinese airlines currently operate to New Zealand and a sixth, Sichuan Airlines, will enter the market in June and Bridges explained that New Zealand now has 61 air service agreements with countries and territories with a further 20 awaiting signature.