Nationals sour over Russian trade negotiations; caution required

In the news yesterday I heard that National are claiming that the Government’s attempt to restart trade negotiations with Russia are confusing and not helpful. The allegations come as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters talks up the need to revisit the stalled New Zealand Russia trade agreement.

These National claims reek of sour grapes. Like a bitter child who did not get what it wanted, they are trying to scuttle Labours chances of concluding a successful deal. They are being made by a party that spent much of its effort on Free Trade Agreements, had nine years to conclude an agreement with Russia and never seriously tried to engage Moscow on the question of one.

New Zealand needs to be careful with Russia. The latter is a semi-authoritarian regime, whose labour, environmental and social policies are mired in corruption. No doubt Moscow would welcome a chance to have a deal with a nation generally seen as more friendly with the United States.

I encourage trade with other nations as a means of making our economy grow. However I believe there are standards by which New Zealand should be conducting its negotiations. I believe that it is possible to have principled trade agreements without the country ceding sovereignty.

However the Free Trade Agreement format is not the proper way. Free trade means less barriers to trade, but at the same time it is only as good as the individual negotiators ability and understanding of what is at stake. Free trade agreements work fine if the nations are large, wealthy and have influence, but 30 years of neoliberalism in New Zealand has told me that what might work for America is not working in New Zealand.

Both National and Labour have touted the benefits of free trade whilst ignoring the human rights and environmental laws that have been undermined in order to advance what they perceive as New Zealand’s interests. A good example of this is the 2008 China-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement that was negotiated by the Government of former Prime Minister Helen Clark. The Chinese trade agreement with New Zealand came at the significant expense of human rights, with Chinese dissidents being suppressed, Chinese labour laws being attacked because they are apparently a hindrance.

The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is a great example of a bad Free Trade Agreement. Aside from New Zealand having to cede significant sovereignty if the agreement is concluded in its current form, it raises questions about the ethics behind Free Trade as a concept. Other countries are sticking to their guns and demanding significant concessions before they are willing to sign it, but New Zealand is not and that is making us vulnerable when we need a clear “YES, the Government does support the Investor State Dispute Settlement clauses” or a clear “NO, the Government does not support the I.S.D.S. clauses.”. Nor are we digging our heels in satisfactorily on the question of

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