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Parliamentary debate and vote a charade - Singapore Free Trade Agreement
7 November 2000
GATT Watchdog Media Release
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 with Singapore.
"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
For more information on the Singapore Free Trade Agreement, see the index page on globalisation