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New Zealand And The Singapore CEP—Sandra Lee

7 November 2000 Hon Sandra Lee Speech Notes

New Zealand And The Singapore CEP—Sandra Lee

Parliamentary debate on Government Notice of Motion Number 1:
1. Hon. Dr Michael Cullen to move, That this House takes note of the report of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee on its international treaty examination of the Agreement between New Zealand and Singapore on a Closer Economic Partnership.


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The Alliance will vote against this motion, and nor, by agreement with our Labour colleagues, will we support any enabling legislation.

In doing so we are invoking the mechanisms that we negotiated between Labour and the Alliance in the coalition agreement.

We do not support the proposed Closer Economic Partnership with Singapore.

In opening, I would like to touch on two points raised by the Leader of the Opposition.

She suggested that the treaty provision—which is standard issue as members know—is more related to the General Agreement on Trade in Services and will create two classes of people.

I say to the Leader of the Opposition that there are already two classes of people in New Zealand: the extremely wealthy that her Government supported—few in number—and the rest of us New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha, who have been left to struggle.

The Alliance says that our engagement in the world community must be based on fairness not freedom or licence.

The Alliance believes that New Zealand must engage in the world community. It is also our duty to do so. That is why we are peacekeepers, providers of aid and a safe haven for political refugees.

The Alliance is in favour of trade, of course, and jobs, and investment, and economic growth, and friendly relationships with our neighbours in South East Asia, including the people of Singapore.

We have no ambitions for military or economic might. We do not seek to dominate others for our own benefit. That is for others to do.

However we are a small nation, and our prosperity is hostage to major economic developments beyond our control.
Our sovereignty is fragile and is constantly threatened by huge international interests. Our culture is precious and could, as a small nation, be easily overwhelmed by others. It is a fact that economic power is not equally shared in the world community.

Increasingly large firms can shape the world to their agendas: massive, powerful, rich corporations beyond the imagination of most of us. Some of them would have turnovers bigger than our whole country's gross domestic product.

Their agendas have little to do with social harmony, community, cultural growth, environmental health, species diversity, and protection of what makes our country unique and special.

They are the main reason why our engagement in the world community cannot take the form of absolutely free trade in goods, services, people and capital. The freedom that free trade brings is illusionary, and New Zealand is probably one of the better examples of that.

It is freedom for a powerful few, often at the expense of the many.

It means licence for international capital at the expense of the future of our communities.

Trade has the potential to enrich the lives of us all. Unrestricted trade, however, often has the result of worsening inequality, fermenting injustice, and destabilising political states.

For an example, try New Zealand at the moment. Massive unemployment was created as a result of the previous Government's policy. Unrestricted trade is focussed on the short term and on immediate profit. That is a constant threat to the environment, especially with technological change, which has reduced the concept of the long term to but months. Very often, unrestricted trade is structured to benefit countries unequally.

Nelson Mandela summarised the Alliance position when he was speaking at the World Economic Forum. He said:

"We cannot reduce tariffs only for the benefit to accrue to the stronger partner. Integration that causes destructive movements of capital, skills or labour defeats our purposes. Balanced development and equitable trade relationships must be our watchwords."

The Alliance does not support this motion because it does not believe that the Singapore treaty will foster sustainable development.

A fair trade agreement must ensure that workers are protected, that the environment is enhanced, and that conditions of fair competition prevail.

These crucial elements were not accepted as part of the Singapore close economic partnership.

The Alliance believes that engagement in the world community should add to the dignity and the distinction of everyone in relation to trading parties. That is what we mean by reciprocity.

That is why a fair trade agreement must make sure that the workers of all countries are protected. Improving minimum labour standards must be an important part of such agreements.

What are the consequences if we fail to do so? They are already well known.
The Alliance also believes that as we take our place in the world we must enhance and enrich the environment.

A fair trade agreement must ensure that all parties are subject to high and rising environmental standards. We fail to do so at our peril.

I know the officials could not get agreement for this in the treaty.

The Alliance also believes that competitiveness must be based on comparative advantage, openly and honestly acquired with fair competition.

We understand that the Singapore Government uses a variety of subsidies to protect its industries, so many subsidies—apparently—that the Singaporeans could not even list these when asked to do so. The Alliance is thus not convinced that fair competition can prevail.

The Alliance believes all future trade agreements must be based on the concept of truly fair trade. They must protect labour standards, enhance the environment and contain conditions for fair competition. Unrestricted trade is not good enough for the Alliance and for the people of New Zealand, or—in my view—for the planet.

In differentiating publicly from our Labour coalition partners, we believe we have a responsibility to show our profound differences and how they can be well-managed. We cooperate, we govern, but we differ on things, and when we do, we place reliance on the mechanisms that we have put in place in order to allow us to do that.

Although our arrangement is unique, in parliamentary democracies there are historical precedents. In 1932, the British National Government Cabinet ‘agreed to differ’ on the issue of tariffs. Ministers were permitted to speak and vote in the Commons against a tariffs bill proposed by another Minister.

In 1975, the Government of Prime Minister Harold Wilson explicitly permitted Ministers to differ publicly over the issue of entry into the European Common Market.

At the last election, the Alliance campaigned on a fair trade platform. With 10 votes out of 120, we represent that policy in our speeches and in our vote today.

Looking to the long-term development of New Zealand, we are asking this House to vote against this motion, which we do not consider is in the best interests of our country at this time.

ENDS


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