CER no level playing field – Locke

“The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee report on closer economic relations with Australia has been described as ‘much too rosy’ by Green MP Keith Locke in his minority report.

“There was too little consideration of the downsides of CER and how New Zealand should deal with them in this committee,” said Mr Locke.

“The committee agreed that CER had provided trade opportunities for New Zealand, but I argued it hasn’t been a level playing field. Bigger Australian firms, often supported by state subsidies, have taken a big chunk of the New Zealand market.

“Australia has taken over many New Zealand firms and there has been a shift in production facilities and head offices to Australia. One of the big problems faced by the inquiry was the lack of data and academic studies on these downsides,” he said.

“An economic merger, in the form of an Australia New Zealand Economic Community promoted in the report, would favour Australian over New Zealand interests. For example, a common stock market would see smaller New Zealand firms marginalised. Any moves to a common currency (favoured but not formally supported by the committee) could undermine our sovereignty and leave our economy at the mercy of fluctuations in the larger Australian economy.

“The Australians thought we were suckers to give away our right to have local content quota on cultural products under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and the Select Committee wimped out when it came to properly addressing this problem.

Mr Locke supported those submitters who proposed compulsory New Zealand quotas for the audio-visual and music industries. Otherwise New Zealand runs the risk of being swamped by overseas music and TV, including that from Australia.

“We should also actively lobby during GATS negotiations for excluding cultural services from trade rules,” he said.

“Australia is doing much better than us with a ‘Buy Australia’ campaign saving about one billion dollars a year on imports. We should imitate that with an active ‘Buy New Zealand’ policy. Rather than just attack Australia’s industry assistance policies we should try to coordinate assistance so that New Zealand firms are not disadvantaged.

“We don’t support CER being used to promote free trade agreements in Hong Kong and beyond. The Singapore agreement has hardly been a success. Singapore exporters are already trying to bring in low-wage clothing products which don’t comply with the agreement’s local content rules,” he said.

Mr Locke said the Greens support closer relations with Australia, but this should involve trade unions, cultural bodies and the voluntary sector, and not just the collaboration between governments and the business sector.

“We think a Cabinet portfolio on the Relationship with Australia shouldn’t be narrowly focused on economic integration,” he said.

“New Zealand has been relegated to the status of an Australian State as under the Australia / New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) arrangement. That produces significant problems for New Zealand, as we have seen during the debate over GE labelling. Extra New Zealand representation in Australian State capitals is not the answer. The Australian Commonwealth government must be told to uphold New Zealand’s rights under CER.

“We can’t assume New Zealand is going down the same track as Australia. New Zealand has diverged from Australia over defence, immigration and climate change, and Kiwis have been discriminated against in recent social welfare changes in Australia.

“Any idea we have to ‘fit in’ with Australia will undermine our sovereignty and harm New Zealand’s interests,” said Mr Locke.