Saturday, 10 May 2008

GPJA submission on FTA with China

Submission to the government by Global Peace & Justice Auckland (GPJA) on the Free Trade Agreement between the government of New Zealand and the regime of the People’s Republic of China.

7 May 2008 1. Global Peace and Justice Auckland is a network of Auckland based groups and individuals concerned to promote justice and peace both around the world and within New Zealand. 2. We are strongly opposed to the Free Trade Agreement between New Zealand and the Peoples’ Republic of China because the agreement is bad for New Zealand workers, bad for Chinese workers and is a slap in the face for Tibetans struggling under China’s yoke. 3. We appreciate there will be increases in trade on paper with the result our economy will grow. However as we have seen over the past eight years, growth does not mean those in greatest need will benefit. New Zealand still has 180,000 children locked into poverty despite what the Prime Minister describes as the most sustained period of economic growth for a generation. 4. The economic growth predicted as a result of the FTA will likewise not improve the standard of living for the most vulnerable New Zealanders but it will instead decrease the standard of living for tens of thousands of New Zealand workers. 5. We should remember the trade surplus New Zealand enjoyed with China in the mid 1980s. In other words we exported more to China than we imported. However this reversed dramatically when import tariffs were removed or phased out. There was a flood of cheap imports from China which turned the trade surplus into a billion dollar deficit. When the government began negotiations for the free trade agreement in December 2004 the deficit with China was $1.5 billion. A year later it had grown to over $2 billion. Over 20 years our exports stagnated while China flooded New Zealand with sweated imports. 6. As a direct result tens of thousands of jobs were lost from our manufacturing sector as New Zealand companies went to the wall. Some survived only by shifting their manufacturing base to China. Others transformed into importing companies and helped fill the shelves of the Warehouse with cheap low-quality products. But these bargain goods carry a very high price. 7. The Ministry of Economic Development has estimated 16 jobs are lost for every one million dollars of imported products we could make here. A simple calculation shows about 50,000 jobs lost to Chinese imports alone. As more tariffs are phased out under the free trade agreement we can expect as many as 20,000 more New Zealand workers to lose their jobs with many more families driven below the poverty line. 8. We should also expect many more New Zealand workers to suffer in industries which struggle to compete. We have the example of Air New Zealand (owned by the New Zealand government) which forced New Zealand workers in aircraft maintenance to accept reduced working conditions as the price for retaining the jobs in New Zealand. 9. None of this seems to concern the Labour government. To our Labour politicians this is free trade on one of those fictitious level playing fields. 10. The Chinese economy is built on long hours, child labour, forced labour and poverty wages. Is it free trade when New Zealand workers are expected to compete with workers paid less than $1 an hour for 16-hour days? Is it free trade when China operates prison labour camps where as many as seven million inmates work without pay and nothing in the way of health and safety standards to produce goods to compete with New Zealand products? China has repeatedly refused to sign up to even the most basic of labour standards under the International Labour Organisation such as bans on forced labour and the right to organise independent trade unions. Those Chinese who dare to speak out are silenced. 11. Why would New Zealand give preferential trade status to a brutal, repressive regime like this? The answer is that the FTA with China benefits already wealthy corporate interests. 12. Through the FTA New Zealand increasingly is outsourcing its manufacturing sector to China. This prevents us developing manufacturing here at a time when global warming and high fuel prices will increasingly make international trade (from a country as far away from markets as New Zealand) much more expensive. We are putting too many eggs in one basket through relying more heavily on farming products for future prosperity. 13. Back in 1998 our Prime Minister had a different view. She criticised the then Prime Minister, National leader Jenny Shipley, for putting trade ahead of human rights and said “…we have had this pitiful simpering about there being a distinction between business issues and issues of human rights and democracy. If that value had been applied in 19th century England and North America, then we would still have slavery, because the representatives of those who employed slaves would claim that there was no connection between that issue and their business values.” 14. A year later in the speech from the throne the newly elected Labour government told us “legitimate issues of labour standards and environmental concerns need to be integrated better with trade agreements.”

15. But all this has gone out the window. They are meaningless platitudes. Through this FTA the government is saying it is happy for New Zealand to deal with these 21st century slave-owners, buying their products at reduced rates. 16. There can be no doubt also that the FTA is helping the Chinese regime bolster its stranglehold on democracy and human rights. The FTA legitimises the regime and turns a blind eye to its anti-worker and anti-union policies. 17. And what about the Tibetans? At a time when there have been renewed calls for autonomy from the people of Tibet and greater levels of violence and repression against the people it sends all the wrong messages for New Zealand to sign an FTA with the country. 18. Finally it is a travesty of democracy here in New Zealand for this FTA to have been agreed and signed by the government before New Zealanders (aside from a few in business and compliant trade union leadership) have had the opportunity to see and discuss it and its ramifications. 19. We wish to be heard by the committee in support of this submission. John Minto Spokesperson Ph (09) 8463173 (H) (09) 8469496 (W)

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