By Selwyn Manning
A renewed commitment to narrowing the forever widening gap between rich and poor needs to be addressed, says New Zealand Prime minister Jenny Shipley.
Speaking from the podium at APEC leader’s summit meetings in Auckland, Mrs Shipley said too many APEC economies had forgotten that reducing the gap between wealth and poor was the “reason” the 21 nations which make up APEC agreed to remove trade and investment barriers.
“`Now is the time to urgently lift the pace of our progress,'” she said.
The call is a tad ironic coming from the Prime Minister of a Government which is also under attack domestically for forging ahead with policies which place a business first ideal before provision of responsive social policy.
Mrs Shipley’s National Party minority government has been vulnerable on social policy. One example is its abolishment of subsidised state housing, replaced by a market rent pricing regime for state house tenants has been criticised for increasing overcrowded living in urban New Zealand. And while Mrs Shipley’s government has returned more money into its public health system it has fallen well short of funding on a needs basis. New Zealanders are increasingly having to abondon a reliance on state health care and move into private insurance schemes which are based on profitable, lowest risk/lowest price, charging schedules.
New Zealand’s launch into reducing tariffs to lower levels than our trading partners also has been criticised by trade unions representing worker’s rights in New Zealand, and also from Auckland Chamber of Commerce head, Michael Barnett.
Barnett said New Zealand’s obsession with driving down tariffs faster than trading partners was harsh on domestic businesses who cannot compete on a level manufacturing field.
On the other hand, business groups attending APEC in Auckland this week are criticising APEC's pace in lifting trade and investment restrictions, saying it is unlikely to meet the goal it set in 1994 of free trade by 2010 for its developed members and 2020 for its poorer members.
But opponents of the APEC agenda, such as New Zealand university lecturer Jane Kelsy and WTO-Watchdog organiser Aziz Choudry say unbridled free trade would instead hurt the poor because small businessmen and farmers in developing countries, and in New Zealand, would be overwhelmed by powerful competitors from abroad.
Mrs Shipley rejected that view, calling free trade a ``highway to development and success.''
She said: ``We need to challenge those who claim the moral high ground to come down from their protectionist pedestal,'' she said.
APEC trade ministers agreed on Thursday and Friday that all agricultural export subsidies should be eliminated and said they will ask the World Trade Organization to consider tariff reductions on eight categories of goods when it meets for a new round of global trade talks in November.
However, this approach was stalled last year by Japan's refusal to open up its fisheries and forestry markets.
APEC's opposition to agricultural export subsidies is likely to set up a head-on trade collision with the European Union.
APEC ministers agreed in Auckland the subsidies make it harder for other countries to compete and harm Third World farmers. Indeed, ASEAN member countries spoke aggressively on Friday demanding that APEC weild pressure on the 15-member EU to ease its reliance on subsidy and barriers.