Parliament

Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search

 

Singapore Free Trade Agreement Speech

Singapore Free Trade Agreement
General debate speech notes
Wednesday 10 August 2000
Rod Donald MP
Green Party Co-Leader

Last week Michael Cullen confirmed our worst fears - the government intends to deny parliament the opportunity to debate and decide whether NZ should sign up to a free trade agreement with Singapore. It is the prerogative of the executive Dr Cullen says, never mind that the executive is an executive of a minority government or that the junior partner to that minority government, the Alliance, used to have and hopefully still does, serious concerns about free trade agreements.

Only 49 Labour MPs, indeed 16 Labour Cabinet Ministers, could lock this country into a free trade agreement which hasn't been adequately debated in public, let alone in parliament.

The secrecy around the Singapore Agreement mirrors the secrecy which surrounds the now defunct Multilateral Agreement on Investment. Under mounting pressure the then National Government actually released more information on the MAI than the current government has done on what its up to with Singapore. Speculation in the media has only cause to heighten our concern about this agreement and the process under which it is being negotiated.

The advent of minority multi-party governments must signal the end to the traditional crown prerogative. It is simply not acceptable for parties representing less than half the members of this house and therefore half the voters of this country to sign New Zealand up to long term commitments which are difficult to get out of.

My colleague Keith Locke has a members bill in the ballot which would bring the procedure for adopting international treaties into the twenty first century. All international treaties would come before parliament and parliament would need to give its approval before NZ became a party to them. That in turn would ensure that in future the only treaties that are given effect to by the courts in NZ law are those that have been before parliament.

That is the ideal situation. What we have now is far from it. The level of consultation on the Singapore Free Trade Agreement with the Green Party, on which this minority government depends for confidence and supply, has been zero.

According to today's independent the level of consultation with the likes of the Manufacturers Federation has been less than adequate. The Auckland export institute says they want to be brought into negotiations too.

Trade liberalisation supporters and critics alike are pressing for more information to be made available about the agreement. Many of us would have assumed this would be the case given the strong stand taken by the deputy prime minister when he was opposing the Multi lateral Agreement on Investment.

His questions on that agreement are just as pertinent on this one now: "If the Government is so certain that the Singapore Free Trade Agreement is so good then the arguments in favour of it must be pretty persuasive. The logic must be overwhelming. So the Government which is so sure that the free trade agreement is such a good idea should be prepared to debate it on the floor of the house and have a vote on it."

In the same way that Mr Anderton invited the then Minister of Finance to table the draft MAI agreement I would now invite the Minister of Trade Negotiations to table the draft Singapore Free Trade Agreement. Lets have some proper open debate both in parliament and in public before this agreement reaches the point of mere ratification.

What have we gleaned about this agreement? First and most fundamentally the likely economic benefits are minimal. A cost benefit analysis provided by Foreign Affairs provides no economic benefits. This is not surprising given that New Zealand and Singapore effectively have free trade between them already. In fact 98% of merchandise trade is already free of tariffs while the few restrictions on investment and trade in services are there for good reasons.

Instead the CBA tells us that the big advantage of the Singapore agreement is strategic. It is a stepping stone, indeed a Trojan Horse, towards an Asian free trade agreement with New Zealand and Australia. It is claimed that if such an agreement were signed then the benefit to NZ would be US$3.4 billion.

Clearly we should take this estimate with a large grain of salt. It was undoubtedly based on the same unrealistic assumptions about perfect competition that are trotted out time and again to justify trade liberalisation. These studies always promise "free beer tomorrow" but literally no one comes back the day after and checks whether anyone actually got a drink. In other words there are no studies documenting econometrically actually realised gains from trade liberalisation.

Despite Jim Sutton saying the Greens have rocks in their heads because of the questions we raise about free trade he is not even prepared to undertake a study on what if any net benefit New Zealand has gained from our free trade with Australia. On the face of it we have lost a lot. Thousands of New Zealand jobs have been exported to Australia as manufacturers have moved across the Tasman to take advantage of generous government assistance packages. Thousands of New Zealanders have followed their lost job opportunities. Since CER has signed New Zealand has had trade deficits for 15 of those 17 years.

Not only does Australia export more manufactured goods to us than we do to them but in recent years Australia has exported more food products to New Zealand than we have to them. And it's getting worse. Not withstanding Heinz Watties' decision to relocate some of its processing from Melbourne to Hastings the trend has been very much in the wrong direction. Goodman Feilder's decision to close down its oat mill in Gore and feed Kiwis on Australian porridge is one of the most retrograde. Even the Heinz Watties decision means that our tomato sauce will be made in Australia using tomatoes from Thailand.

That example illustrates the stupidity of globalisation but also the greed that underpins it. Capital moves to where ever production costs are cheapest. That means looking for governments that are willing to provide incentives such as cheap labour, poor working conditions, low environmental standards and tax havens.

The Singaporeans are driving a hard bargain to reduce the local content quota to only 20% in their negotiations on the FTA. That effectively means that clothes made in sweat shops elsewhere in Asia could be transhipped to Singapore and packed in retail boxes with a "Made in Singapore" label sewn on them in order to circumvent the tariff freeze that the government only passed this year. Even the 40% local content quota the government is prepared to agree to, 10% less than what we have with Australia, undermines the tariff freeze and the government's commitment to working people's jobs in New Zealand.

We have no confidence that a free trade agreement with Singapore will be to New Zealand's advantage. As Jane Kelsey says in this week's Herald "we can't have it both ways". Either the government stands for rebuilding this nation through regional development and job creation or it sides with globalisation. Its time to make the hard choices and if Labour is determined to take the globalisation path then it ought to front up to parliament and rely on National to get its way rather than resort to the Crown prerogative.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Parliament Headlines | Politics Headlines | Regional Headlines

New Reports: Flood Risk From Rain And Sea Under Climate Change

One report looks at what would happen when rivers are flooded by heavy rain and storms, while the other examines flooding exposure in coastal and harbour areas and how that might change with sea-level rise.

Their findings show that across the country almost 700,000 people and 411,516 buildings worth $135 billion are presently exposed to river flooding in the event of extreme weather events...

There is near certainty that the sea will rise 20-30 cm by 2040. By the end of the century, depending on whether global greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, it could rise by between 0.5 to 1.1 m, which could add an additional 116,000 people exposed to extreme coastal storm flooding. More>>

ALSO:

 
 

Gordon Campbell: On The Commerce Commission Fuel Report

The interim Commerce Commission report on the fuel industry will do nothing to endear the major oil companies to the New Zealand public... More>>

ALSO:

Emergency Govt Bill: Overriding Local Licensing For The Rugby

“It’s pretty clear some clubs are having difficulty persuading their district licensing committees to grant a special licence to extend their hours for this obviously special event, and so it makes sense for Parliament to allow clubs to meet a community desire." More>>

ALSO:

Leaving Contract Early: KiwiBuild Programme Losing Another Top Boss

Ms O'Sullivan began a six-month contract as head of KiwiBuild Commercial in February, but the Housing Ministry has confirmed she has resigned and will depart a month early to take up a new job. More>>

ALSO:

Proposed National Policy Statement: Helping Our Cities Grow Up And Out

“We need a new approach to planning that allows our cities to grow up, especially in city centres and around transport connections. We also have to allow cities to expand in a way that protects our special heritage areas, the natural environment and highly productive land." More>>

ALSO:

Ombudsman's Report: Ngāpuhi Elder 'Shocked' By Conditions At Ngawha Prison

A prominent Ngāpuhi elder is shocked to find inmates at Ngawha Prison are denied water and forced to relieve themselves in the exercise yard... Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has released a report highly critical of conditions at the Northland prison. More>>

ALSO:

Promises: Independent Election Policy Costing Unit A Step Closer

The creation of an entity to provide political parties with independent and non-partisan policy costings is a step closer today, according to Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Associate Finance Minister James Shaw. More>>

ALSO:

School's In: Primary And Intermediate Principals Accept New Offer

Primary and intermediate school principals have voted to accept a new settlement from the Ministry of Education, which includes entrenched pay parity with secondary principals. More>>

ALSO:

IPCA On 'Rawshark' Investigation: Multiple Police Failings In Hager Searches Confirmed

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that the Police's unlawful search of Nicky Hager's property in October 2014 resulted from an unwitting neglect of duty and did not amount to misconduct by any individual officer... More>>

ALSO:

Broadcasting Standards: Decisions On Coverage Of Mosque Attacks

The Authority upheld one of these complaints, finding that the use of extensive excerpts from the alleged attacker’s livestream video on Sky News New Zealand had the potential to cause significant distress to audiences in New Zealand, and particularly to the family and friends of victims, and the wider Muslim community. More>>

 
 
 
 
 

LATEST HEADLINES

  • PARLIAMENT
  • POLITICS
  • REGIONAL
 
 

InfoPages News Channels