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Maori Party explains split vote on tariff bill

Tariff (New Zealand-Hong Kong, China Closer Economic Partnership Agreement) Amendment Bill, Third reading
Te Ururoa Flavell; MP for Waiariki, Tuesday 24th August 2010

Tēnā koe, Mr Deputy Speaker. Kia ora tātou katoa, i tēnei pō. The mere fact that we have a split vote in the Māori Party might indicate that obviously there is a degree of support but also an opportunity has arisen through our vote to register some serious issues that we have raised. I cannot say that they align with Dr Norman’s too much but certainly there are some concerns, nevertheless.

The Māori Party is on record as having a range of concerns about the impact of free-trade agreements. Our major concern is the long-term prosperity of workers and businesses. We are concerned also about the protection of New Zealand’s markets; tariff rates; biosecurity; environmental issues, including climate change; and overseas investment. As has been spoken about, this bill implements a bilateral trade agreement—namely, the New Zealand-Hong Kong, China Closer Economic Partnership Agreement.

The amendments to the tariff will enable the application of preferential tariff rates to be applied to goods imported from Hong Kong. The New Zealand-Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership largely mirrors, as Dr Norman talked about, New Zealand’s prior free-trade agreement with China.

Due to liberalising our laws, the concern is about businesses and workers, including Māori, that they may be forced to produce their goods at the lowest cost by taking production offshore. Of course, the logical consequences of taking production offshore is that it will result in both job losses at home while also willingly providing New Zealanders with an opportunity—as if they needed it—to buy overseas goods rather than those made in New Zealand.

So where will the impact be most profound? Well, the free-trade agreement’s greatest negative impact has been on the manufacturing sector with its high Māori and Pacific Island workforce. Although there have been some comment passed that Māori businesses may stand to be disadvantaged from this approach, the impact is actually felt more by Māori workers in the manufacturing sector, regardless of who owns the businesses. From what we can work out, the loss of the manufacturing base has had an impact only on those Māori businesses in the manufacturing sector.

Two examples I can cite are those located in Ōpōtiki, owned by the Whakatōhea, and South Auckland. The name of the firm is Katie Footwear and the person who led that company was Karroll Brent-Edmondson, both of which manufactured footwear. Both closed as a result of cheap imports. By far the most enduring legacy will be on the Māori workforce. As at June 2008, 12,000 Māori were unemployed in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing primary production area; and 29,000 Māori were employed in the manufacturing area. Māori laid off in a factory in New Zealand did not get the jobs in the New Zealand – owned factories that relocated to low-wage, Asian economies. We know full well that the huge appetite the world has for primary produce in emerging super-power Asian countries like China will not change as a result of some of the Māori Party voting against this bill, and we also know that many Māori businesses are looking to advance the promise of prosperity.

This is a key object in our policy manifesto He aha te mea nui that we will incentivise whānau and family businesses to grow. We want to see Māori businesses develop and also to increase employment but we cannot ignore the fact that in the latest household labour force survey Māori unemployment is up from 14.2 percent to 16.4 percent. That means 26,400 Māori are now without jobs—an increase of 3,600 since the previous quarter.

I need to say that another part of our He aha te mea nui manifesto was to invest in development programmes that will forecast the long-term opportunities and skills required to increase productivity and economic growth. That is where we get caught obviously between a rock and a hard place. Māori concerns in regard to manaakitanga and how workers in both countries are being treated in regard to workers’ rights and minimum standards on labour issues have long been an issue for our party. The lack of recognition of tangata whenua in free-trade agreements and in incidental tariffs with overseas partners undermines the Treaty of Waitangi but, on the other hand, we will never stand in the way of allowing Māori businesses to thrive. That is why we obviously have arrived at a position of voting: two members opposed and three members in favour.

ends

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