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The Limits to Green Compassion

Import News from the Importers Institute 21 November 2000 –

Rod Donald, co-leader of the Green Party, is a very compassionate man - but his compassion has definite limits.

Prime Minister Helen Clark announced that, from 1 July next, goods from the world's 48 least developed countries will enter New Zealand duty free. The list includes countries like Somalia, Mozambique and Sierra Leone, but excludes developing countries that actually trade with us, like Indonesia, China and India.

The announcement was little more than a facile gesture to portray this government as being in favour of free trade. The reality is quite different. The government froze protectionist tariffs on clothing and shoes for the benefit of some local manufacturers.

While most observers recognised this announcement for what it was - a vacuous political stunt - the usual protectionists did not miss the opportunity to claim that it would destroy the jobs of Maori and Pacific Island low income women (some of whom may be disabled) in poverty-stricken regions.

"A shocking decision," exclaimed Paul Blomfield of the Textile & Apparel Federation. "The Vietnamese could send their goods via Cambodia," fretted Bruce Goldsworthy or the Employers and Manufacturers Association (Northern). "The proposal is outrageous and an affront to the workers in New Zealand who supported the election of a Labour Government, [...] The Prime Minister has simply lost the plot," frothed Clothing Union secretary Maxine Gay.

But the winner of the prize for the most inane comment must go to Rod Donald, co-leader of the Green Party, who said the decision is the "death knell for clothing industry." He said, "It is simplistic to say that giving developing countries tariff-free access to New Zealand is going to help them if big corporations move in and pay the locals very poor wages to produce the goods."

Mr Donald claims that he knows what he is talking about: "Having personally worked for Trade Aid for 16 years in an effort to foster trade with craftspeople in developing countries we do want to help these people, but not at the expense of our own people." So, there you have it, Donald's compassion has definite limits.

So, what is this "Trade Aid" outfit? Back in the seventies, New Zealand had a closed economy. To import most things, you needed to get a licence from politicians or bureaucrats. A group of enterprising greenies from Christchurch convinced the government to give them import licences and wave duties for ethnic ornaments, on 'humanitarian' grounds.

The handicrafts scheme was used to import macramé hangers, cane chairs and shell lampshades, which looked ever so nice next to that Che Guevara poster. Of course, it was important to ensure that the overseas manufacturers remained unpolluted by capitalism. The moment they started using things like machines and electric power, their goods ceased to qualify for the scheme.

Several bureaucrats were gainfully employed deciding whether goods conformed with this definition: "The concession applies to goods which the Collector is satisfied are made; (a) by hand; (b) by tools held in the hand; (c) by machines powered by foot or hand; or (d) by any combination of the foregoing processes."

The greenies got themselves a nice little earner importing ethnic ornaments for sale to people similarly challenged in the taste department, who craved the warm glow of moral superiority that comes with buying that type of merchandise.

If Mr Donald were even half-genuine about his concern for the people of Sierra Leone, he would have welcomed this government's gesture. But no, he doesn't actually give a fig. He is much more concerned that some evil multinational somewhere may make a profit and that the peasants may lose their natural charm and become more like Mr Donald, capable of affording decent housing, education, food and healthcare, in a free trading society.

* * *
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