ASEAN Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area Bill – second reading

KEITH LOCKE (Green): The Green Party will be voting against this bill. I thank other members for their comments. As Pete Hodgson said, the Greens are not at all against trade or trade agreements; we are against agreements that reduce tariffs to nothing across the board in an ideological way rather than in a practical way, and that open up New Zealand for investment in pretty much an across-the-board way-be it investment in production, services, or whatever. That is our concern, because we believe that the motivation of the other parties in this House is more ideological than practical.

If we look at this agreement in practical terms, we see that there are some advantages for our exporters. Our dairy exporters are often referred to as gaining greater access into markets, and perhaps getting more returns. But at the other end our domestic manufacturers will be competing against very low-wage economies. In the ASEAN area, Viet Nam has expanded quite dramatically as a manufacturer and exporter, as have some other ASEAN countries. Thailand is another one that exports, either actually or potentially, quite a bit our way. There is a serious problem, in that our manufacturing industry is declining quite rapidly, and our manufacturing associations are much more cautious about these agreements than, say, the export sector. The clothing industry, the textiles industry, is losing much of its entire skills base. If we want a really rounded economy, with at least the minimum amount of skills in our society in the textile industry and other manufacturing industries, we have to be careful not to expose our manufacturers to the full blast of competitors from very low-wage economies-which is what this agreement is part of.

The other criticism that came out of the select committee submissions was that in this time of a world financial meltdown, the question was whether this was the time to be having a free-trade and services agreement that covers financial services in particular. That means that if a financial instrument-be it a futures contract or one of all those funny names that have come up in the American-led financial crisis-is operated by a Malaysian or Singaporean firm, we have to allow its introduction into New Zealand.

We do not have that control over it. President Obama is doing something on financial regulation this week on it, and we are trying to work out ways to regulate the financial industry. This agreement goes in the opposite direction. The Greens have been saying “there is some good in all of these agreements.” We are not totally against this agreement. But hold on; is this the time to be throwing the doors wide open to these different financial services in particular?

There have been discussions in this Parliament over the last few days on these matters. We are even finding it hard to control the Australian banks from making huge profits by having their mortgage rates way above the official cash rate that is determined by the Reserve Bank. It is even more difficult if we are dealing with some of the agencies, banks, and financial services people in the ASEAN bloc, which is even more distant from us and operates in a different framework than our Australian brothers and sisters do. This brings us to Burma.

I turn to the question raised by Maryan Street about making sure we promote democracy in Burma. The Greens are at one with that member, and with Labour and most members in the House, on going all out on promoting democracy in Burma and opposing the current trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the democracy movement in Burma who has been held unjustly in prison for so many years.

When it comes to the economic dimension of our relationship, it is true that under a measure brought in a few years ago there is freedom for imports from Burma into New Zealand. The Green Party is not for a total ban on imports from Burma, although we note that the European Union and America have certain restrictions on imports. The European Union, for example, has banned the importation of timber and gemstones from Burma because they are used by the junta there to enrich themselves and they use that enrichment against the people. The Green Party here and the Green Parties in Europe support that ban.

Those sorts of targeted sanctions have some validity, such as the ones that the United States has on assets of the Burmese junta, the United States freezing of those assets, certain restrictions on investment in Burma, and certain restrictions the US has on imports from Burma. The political pressure on Burma takes the form of strong criticism, but also engagement. The United States engages with the junta, so it is not an isolationist policy, it is an engagement policy, but also a policy that involves economic pressure. The Greens agree with this.

Under this agreement we have to give preferential treatment to Burmese junta investors in New Zealand. If those generals who are enriching themselves off native timber, or whatever, want to invest in any New Zealand company they have the absolute right under this agreement. This agreement actually gives them more rights than they had before, whereas America and Britain have been taking away the rights of the junta. Similarly, it gives any New Zealand company more protections to invest in Burma, in collaboration with that junta, and against the people-and often in slave labour situations; some of the big projects are done with slave labour. This term is apt because these people have no rights. They are fed and housed in camps. They are effectively slave labour. This agreement, if the Parliament supports it today, gives extra rights to the New Zealand companies so involved.

The question of slave labour came up before the select committee, and the Government was quite opposed to us developing a clear stance on it because it was seen to be too vague and indefinable. There was quite a discussion at the select committee. The Trade Aid organisation that was promoting a ban on slave labour got short shrift from the Government on that, unfortunately.

The question of tobacco has come up in this debate. The anti-smoking organisation Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) was very strong in its submissions. It did not say that there should be absolutely no trade in tobacco, and the Green Party is not saying at the present time that there should be absolutely no trade in tobacco. ASH was saying that although we do not necessarily include trade in machine-guns and things like that in a free-trade agreement.

We can still have trade, but we do not need to give preferential treatment to certain types of trade. Tobacco, arms, and things like that-the “bads” in our society-can be traded separately from a free-trade, eliminate tariffs, agreement. That is all that ASH is saying, and that is all the Green Party is saying. When we put them outside the agreement, that gives flexibility if, at a future time, we want to put restrictions on certain types of tobacco or all tobacco, or some sort of qualification on what can be imported to New Zealand, it will not create difficulties with the country where that tobacco is coming from. It may be that not much is coming from ASEAN at the present time.

By leaving tobacco outside the free trade agreement we will not get into the battle of whether this is an illegitimate restraint on trade, or not, with the particular restrictions being put on this type of tobacco. Does it have more nicotine than that type of tobacco, etc.? We have a freer right to put the restrictions on, as we want. We might still be constrained by some World Trade Organization provisions.

Also, the tobacco product is traded in an entirely different context. Because it is a harmful product, we are trying to reduce as a society and as a world the consumption of tobacco and reduce the trading in tobacco, and we are not trying to reduce the price. With all other goods, the concept is that by trade we reduce the price to the consumers. We are not even trying to do that. It is a different concept altogether. I think the Green Party’s position on that is quite sound. Thank you.


House of Representatives