Government Gambling With People's Lives: Parliamentary Debate And Vote On Singapore Free Trade Deal A Charade
Today Parliament will debate and vote to ratify the Closer Economic Partnership free trade and investment agreement
"In rushing through this agreement and stifling any genuine debate, Labour is exhibiting the same callous disregard for
New Zealand workers, and communities' rights to determine their own path of development which it accused National of
doing while in opposition. Now both parties are joining hands to ram the deal through before APEC," says GATT Watchdog
spokesman Aziz Choudry.
"Today's debate and vote is being heralded by some as a great leap forward in the way New Zealand deals with
international trade agreements. In reality it is a charade. The outcome of this afternoon's vote has been predetermined.
Officials signed off on the text of the agreement in August after it had been negotiated in secret. The much-vaunted
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade "consultations" about the agreement were a carefully-managed, cynical propaganda
exercise. The select committee hearing into the agreement was a total farce, allowing around a week for people to obtain
and read the 190-page text, analyse and write submissions.
"If this is 'progress', it just shows how far New Zealand is behind comparable jurisdictions in terms of the democratic
scrutiny given to international treaty negotiations. Both Australia and the USA are way ahead of us in this respect.
"Few would begrudge Helen Clark and Jim Sutton having a flutter on the horses against the odds today in their private
capacity, using their own money. But instead of joining the punters at the Melbourne Cup they are irresponsibly gambling
with other people's lives. They are gambling with the livelihoods of local textile clothing and footwear workers and the
wellbeing of their communities as they agree to remove all remaining tariffs on Singaporean imports, although 60% of the
product's value could potentially be created by low-wage workers in an Indonesian free trade zone. They are locking in
New Zealand's open investment regime which has contributed to massive joblosses, asset-stripping and overseas ownership
of most of New Zealand's communications, financial and physical infrastructure. With this agreement, and the
anti-democratic way in which they have pushed it through, they set a dangerous precedent for other trade and investment
deals with other countries. They are gambling with our future.
"The Singapore agreement is not due to come into effect till January 1 2001. But Helen Clark wants this deal stitched up
now so she can sign it with great fanfare en route to the APEC Summit in Brunei next week. With APEC in virtual
paralysis and the WTO reeling from failure to launch a new round of global trade talks in Seattle last year, both
governments hope this agreement will be a way to symbolically put some momentum back into international trade and
investment liberalisation which has been faltering for some time.
"Like its predecessors, this government is petrified of any genuine contest of ideas about free trade. A decade and a
half of free trade and investment policies have failed to deliver the promised benefits to the majority of New
Zealanders. Gambling only pays when you are winning. For all of its rhetoric about social and economic justice and
regional development, Labour is backing a free trade dogma which has lost all credibility in a race to the bottom."
For further comment, contact Aziz Choudry, GATT Watchdog, tel (03) 366 2803, PO Box 1905, Christchurch
Peace Movement Aotearoa the national networking peace group PO Box 9314, Wellington, Aotearoa / New Zealand.
tel +64 4 382 8129, fax 382 8173, website Internet Peace Gateway