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Free trade spells disaster for Pacific Islands

5 April 2004

Free trade would spell disaster for Pacific Islands

The Green Party is warning the Government against bullying Pacific Island nations into a free trade regime that would have disastrous economic, social and political consequences for those countries.

The New Zealand and Australian Governments are expected to pressure Island leaders to commit to such a deal at the Pacific Forum meeting in Auckland this week.

"Our Government should back off its campaign to push our Pacific Island neighbours into a 'closer economic relations' agreement," said Rod Donald MP, the Green Party's Spokesperson on Trade.

"Instead of treating our neighbours as pawns in our self-interested free trade games, New Zealand should respect their sovereignty and right to choose for themselves where their best interests lie.

"Forcing so-called free trade onto island nations with small vulnerable economies, limited infrastructure and strong cultural traditions highlights just how far removed from reality New Zealand's ideologically driven officials are.

"Opening borders by removing tariffs will directly cause a serious loss of revenue for cash-strapped Pacific governments. The resulting cheap imports from elsewhere in the region would inevitably close local factories and cause significant job losses.

"There hasn't been the proper cost-benefit analysis done of these deals, it's all about following an ideology which is increasingly under question, rather than doing the sums and deciding whether or not this would benefit these countries'.

"While Fiji and Papua New Guinea may benefit from an islands-only CER deal, Vanuatu, Tonga and the Cook Islands would inevitably suffer. If the Free Trade Agreement included New Zealand and Australia, they will all lose out because we would simply swamp their economies.

"New Zealand's Labour Government should listen to its own rhetoric - 'one size does not fit all'. Pacific nations need preferential treatment from us, not reciprocal agreements."

Rod Donald also urged Pacific leaders to lift the veil of secrecy on trade negotiations so that their own people can engage in open, informed and participatory debate on the costs and benefits of adopting free market ideology.

ENDS

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