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Apparel Industry Wants In On NAFTA

Wednesday, July 11, 2001


For immediate release


New Zealand should stop chasing trade deals with the countries that cannot offer reciprocal benefit and instead pursue a free trade arrangement with the USA and Canada says Paul Blomfield, Apparel and Textile Federation CEO.

Canadian PM Brian Mulroney floated the idea of joining NAFTA on his recent trip to New Zealand, something the apparel and textile industry is clamoring for.

"The recent trade deal with Singapore and the proposed Hong Kong free trade deal do nothing for New Zealand manufacturers because those countries both offer duty free access to our products already," says Blomfield. "All these agreements have done for New Zealand is reduced the duty on imports to the detriment of local manufacturers."

NAFTA is a tantalising suggestion however, with most New Zealand manufactured garments ideal for export to those markets. "Over the years many New Zealand companies have found excellent export markets for their products in the USA but have been unable to contend with high duty and red tape. Offer New Zealand duty free access to the USA and the apparel industry will flourish immediately," he said.

New Zealand "outdoor" adventure clothing is already very popular in the USA market but is classed as expensive due to high duties. Top end fashion product has likewise found a following for its innovation and diversity.

Blomfield says recent trade agreements seemed to be more about agriculture and 'services' than manufacturing. "Somewhere down the track the Government needs to find a trade deal that will encourage manufacturing and promote growth in employment. The apparel industry has long been a major employer for women, Maori and immigrants, in the regions as well as the cities. Growth in this industry would solve a lot of New Zealand's unemployment problems."

During the last two decades reduced protection for the Apparel industry has resulted in huge job losses. The industry that has survived has proven remarkably resilient, finding export markets for innovative and unique products.
"Successive trade ministers have told the industry to "stop competing on price" and "start competing on quality and design", and it has! But apart from CER with Australia, not one deal has been struck that gives New Zealand duty free access to a market in which our manufacturers can flourish. This means that even competitive manufacturers have moved their production to Asia in an effort to reduce costs and the industry has shrunk.

"Without CER the industry would have closed down years ago, but New Zealand is very competitive with Australian made products and successful manufacturers have flourished in that market. NAFTA would offer even greater potential for trade and I'm sure our manufacturers would thrive there also."

(ends)

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