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Abolishing tariffs is a 'betrayal' of NZ workers

For immediate release: 9 November 2002

Abolishing tariffs is a 'betrayal' of New Zealand clothing and textile industry

"The government's ‘we-will-if-you-will’ zero tariff proposal to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) this week tells New Zealand industry ‘you can’t count on our support’," says national secretary of the Clothing Workers Union Maxine Gay.

"It is telling Kiwi manufacturers that the government has no long term commitment to them; that their interests will be traded off when politically opportune; that the skills of Kiwi craftspeople and trades people aren’t valued; that their industry is not worth nurturing.” It will destroy much of the confidence that industry strategies were gradually rebuilding, she said.

"The textile, clothing, footwear and carpet (TCFC) industry is only one of a number of industries that have been working with the government to develop strategies that promote growth in export earnings. In less than five years this industry expects to secure export earnings of a billion dollars, and an annual export growth rate of 12.6 per cent.

"Today, two thousand TCFC firms in New Zealand employ almost 18,000 people. Since 1991, successive drops in tariffs have swamped the market with foreign goods, forcing many textiles and clothing manufacturers to close their doors. The government promised to freeze the remaining tariffs until 2005, and only then review the progress made.

"Breaking that promise will be a kick in the teeth for many industries like ours who are on the verge of making real impact on world markets." Gay says the proposal "is a form of betrayal - a tradeoff for foreign investment, a sellout to the biggest bidder.

"We've seen what happens when tariffs go. The auto industry completely closed within nine months of the announcement, throwing thousands of workers on the scrap heap.

"Tariffs," she says, "are this industry's first line of defense. It says we have something worth protecting. We need to keep them."

Ends: 298 text words

Maxine Gay is the national secretary of the Clothing Workers Union and a member of Action, Research and Education Network of Aotearoa (ARENA).

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