INDEPENDENT NEWS

Serious blow to New Zealand trade prospects

Published: Thu 22 May 2003 12:22 AM
Serious blow to New Zealand trade prospects
New Zealand farmers and exporters had Prime Minister Helen Clark to thank for the latest setback to the keenly-sought free-trade agreement with the United States, National Party leader Bill English said today.
He was reacting to American comments directly linking recent New Zealand Government actions with reduced prospects of a free-trade agreement.
"This is the clearest signal yet from the American Government that Helen Clark's foreign commentator role during the Iraq war has damaged New Zealand's national interests," Mr English said.
"The Prime Minister was almost gleeful when things appeared to be difficult for the Coalition at one stage during the operation to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Then there was her highly doubtful claim that the Coalition action would not have happened under a Democrat administration - a comment which required a subsequent apology."
Mr English said the Australians were on the inside track to a free-trade agreement, but in spite of Labour claims that New Zealand would be next off the block, it was now clear that this optimism was unwarranted.
With Australians already earning an average $200 a week more than New Zealanders, their free-trade deal would add to the imbalance, set New Zealand further back and seriously disadvantage New Zealand farmers who were the big export earners.
"It is hard to over-emphasise the impact this agreement would have on the New Zealand economy, the injection it would provide to the rural economy and the extra money it would provide for education and health.
"The Prime Minister's actions, apologies notwithstanding, have bordered on the irresponsible," Mr English said.
He noted that the interesting departure from US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick was his action in recording his disappointment over "recent actions" by the New Zealand Government. This showed it was clearly a final straw when Labour Ministers continued to claim that the free-trade agreement was still on track in spite of Miss Clark's comments.
"A cynic would suggest that the Prime Minister, poll-driven as she is, is trying to work up an anti-American campaign, in much the same way as former Labour leader David Lange did over nuclear ship visits.
"It is essential that Labour swallows its prejudices and works, in the national interest, to get this relationship back on track," he said.

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