New Zealand and European Union begin formal trade negotiations


Whilst most people were more interested in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s baby girl being born, I was watching the arrival of the European Union chief negotiator Cecilia Malmstrom. Mrs Malmstrom is from and is visiting New Zealand to formally launch trade negotiations with a view to completing a trade agreement between New Zealand and the E.U.

I do have some reservations about the potential F.T.A. that the European Union is likely to seek. They include but are not limited to:

  • the concessions that New Zealand will be asked to make, and what we will be granted in return.
  • that the competing factions inside the E.U. will make it difficult for New Zealand to get a level deal across all of the E.U. member states
  • That provisions around the Euro will leave the New Zealand dollar at a disadvantage

In terms of the member states, there are 27 separate countries, each with their own agenda. Some like France will be highly unionized economies with a degree of reluctance to shed the protective cloak that tariffs and subsidies can offer sectors that are not performing so strongly – their propensity for a good riot when some decision or another goes against them is well noted.

I also wonder if Mrs Malmstrom is the best suited person for this job. The first is she had a major role in promoting the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T.T.I.P.), which is the European equivalent of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership. Like the T.P.P.A./C.P.T.P.P. it has run into significant opposition over issues ranging from enacting laws that are allegedly going to harm corporate profitability to human rights, the environment and international copyright laws. The second is that despite claims made by her that the European Commission for Trade has unprecedented transparency, it is not possible for many European politicians to read important documents.

The European Union, however, are serious. This is a serious chance for New Zealand to negotiate a trade agreement that can help the economic development of this country. The shared respect we have for human rights and environmental issues will hopefully help to undermine the concerns that are held about Mrs Malmstrom’s past record.

So soon after their role in negotiating the damaging Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement which will undermine New Zealand sovereignty, it is rather rich of National to be talking about the need for a “fair” agreement. This is all the more so when an interpretation of “fair” presumes to mean no undue concessions by either side, respect for the others negotiating position and understanding of public concerns. None of this was recognized by National or A.C.T. when they were leading the negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership between 2010-2017.

New Zealand is lucky enough that although we lack constitutional safeguards to stop the undermining of our natural sovereignty, we have a degree of transparency that is not enjoyed in other nations. Had we had the transparency of a country such as Singapore, a semi-authoritarian nation-state, I doubt New Zealanders would know nearly as much as they do because of the mechanisms that protect our right to know.

So, whilst there are potential opportunities for New Zealand, there are potential pitfalls as well. Due caution around these negotiations is well advised.

Doubling the refugee quota in New Zealand; other nations close their borders


Yesterday the New Zealand Parliament came together in a rare, but commendable move. How rare on foreign politics is it to see Labour, National and New Zealand First all singing from the same song sheet?

They were addressing queries from the media on what they thought of the United States moves to separate children from their parents at the United States border. None of them agreed with it, recognizing the cruelty, acknowledging it is not something they would want to see happen here.

So, to be clear, a refugee is a person who:

“is outside of their country and is unable and or unwilling to return or avail themselves of its protection, on account of a well grounded fear of persecution on reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group or political opinion” – Article 1A, Paragraph 1 Convention relating to the status of Refugees, 1951

And an asylum seeker is a person who:

An asylum seeker is an individual who is seeking international protection. In countries with individualised procedures, an asylum seeker is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he or she has submitted it. Not every asylum seeker will ultimately be recognised as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum seeker.

Meanwhile, as has been well highlighted in the media, the United States is closing its border to asylum seekers. Whilst U.S. President Donald Trump will say that the United States needs security, he and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions are deliberately ignoring some salient facts:

  1. It is okay to turn up at the border and ask for asylum.
  2. People fleeing the circumstances in their countries of origin that are making most of these people flee are not likely to have time for lengthy, drawn out immigration processes due to the high level of danger in their country
  3. If the people fleeing are doing so because they are considered an enemy of the state or a target of organized crime groups which can be extremely ruthless, any evidence of attempted asylum may get them killed

Many of the problems caused in Honduras and other countries in terms of organized crime and political instability can be traced back to past U.S. interference in their domestic politics. So, in some respects this is sort of the price that America must pay for past transgressions by the C.I.A. and F.B.I.

New Zealand should have no trouble doubling its quota immediately. 1,500 is a quite modest number to take per year, even for a nation of our size. If we look at the refugees and asylum seeker numbers in some of the smaller Middle East countries, such as Lebanon and Jordan, whose security is much less certain than our own, they have many times more – as of September 2015 1.9 million refugees were in Turkey; 1.1 million in Lebanon; 630,000 in Jordan and 250,000 in Iraq.

The benefits of having refugees in New Zealand is significant. Contrary to the misguided beliefs of some, refugees feel that they have been given a second chance, and so the motivation to return the compassion is great. For example New Zealand took refugees from the Tampa freighter in 2001 when Australia in a moment of election cowardice refused them. Within a matter of years they became contributing tax paying residents owning small businesses, becoming lawyers, tradesmen and so forth.

If these refugees can be of use, so, I am sure, can many many others.

Political aversion to research, science and technology costing New Zealand


Sometime ago I wrote about a war on science being waged. I return to this subject inspired by the National Party’s commitment to dealing with climate change, an issue it and its A.C.T. Party ally have largely viewed – and at grass roots still do – as a socialist conspiracy based on what they call wonky science.

There seems to be a fear in some corners of science. Reading peoples comments underneath articles on Stuff, and on Facebook make me sad for the people who dedicate their professional careers to bettering our understanding of the world around us and designing new technology and research new ideas.

Whether it is a report on the work being done to understand the geophysical mechanics of the Alpine Fault in South Westland, the ignorance or lack of understanding displayed by many is disturbing. The spreading of untruths that a couple of drills boring into a fault system hundreds of kilometres long is going to somehow trigger a major earthquake is as alarming as it is wrong. The reasoning for the research is commendable: to find out how close the fault is to rupturing and whether any of the findings can be applied elsewhere.

Likewise there is a matching distrust or similar fear of technology. Perhaps it is the loss of privacy that goes with having just a few mega companies providing the bulk of our information technology – Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Samsung, Apple all possess incredibly smart technological brains to have achieved in just under two decades the revolution from dumb phones to smart phones; from small localized networks such Old Friends to Facebook. The ability to post a vast range of multimedia – music, videos, blogs, photos among others

But we should not let this fear of technology necessarily cripple us. During the same time it has become possible that even if no overall cure is found for cancer, some forms of it such as bowel cancer might be significantly reduced in terms of their potency. Perhaps with investment in medical science we can make that happen in New Zealand.

Is it the failure of politicians to keep up with research, science and technology that makes them distrustful of it? Then we need to put pressure on them to get up to speed. The explosion of drones for example requires some urgent legislation changes to require registration of drones, and to make sure that they cannot be used in ways that pose undue threats to privacy, aircraft around airports or in flight paths. Before a major commercial aviation disaster occurs this needs to be tackled.

Is it that toxic old “She’ll be right” attitude that has long cost New Zealand, whereby people assume that on a given day everything will be fine and we worry too much? More cause for getting rid of it then. More cause for the change in public attitudes that inspired me to establish this blog in the first place.

Is the cause possibly a fear of politicians that they will somehow run out of work if they make an obvious effort to address our numerous outstanding social, economic and environmental problems? If that is the case this is simply laughable because being humans like the rest of us even if they do tackle these ills in an honest way and try to do the job they were elected to do, enough mistakes are certain that no shortage of work is ever likely to exist.

Or, is there a conspiracy of some sort to keep New Zealanders wages down by not investing in higher education, the sciences and the trades so that we exhaust ourselves by working too hard? I initially thought that this was a crack pot theory conceived by some believer of alternative politics, but the failure of two successive three-term Governments to achieve meaningful wage rises makes the cynic in me wonder. But whatever the answer may be – whether it is one or more of the above ideas or something completely different – it is costing New Zealand badly. We could be so much richer both in terms of income per capita, environmental and economic performance. I really really cannot help but wonder if there is not some deliberate agenda to make science look devious and discourage the idea of abstract research.

 

National changes tune on climate change


National leader Simon Bridges has pledged to work with Labour and the Greens on establishing common ground on climate change. The announcement comes as part of a u-turn by National on an issue that until recently it had been quite cool on.

I find this quite interesting given that when Mr Bridges was a Minister of the Crown one of his portfolios was Minister of Energy and Resources. Mr Bridges in that role undertook to pass under urgency legislation that effectively criminalized the right to peaceful assembly on the high seas. Mr Bridges also met with executives from several oil companies, such as Anadarko who lobbied heavily for the Crown Minerals (Crown land and protection)Act 2013.

How will National work constructively with Labour and the Greens? To do that, they would need to get their M.P.’s on board – many, such as Judith Collins do not care much for environmental issues, and some have gone so far as to say so in public. National would then need to get its grass roots members on board, remembering this is a conservative party with a strong rural base and supported by businesses, farmers, industrialists and wealthy donors.

Getting all of them on board would be a challenge. Many would see it as undermining the economy. Industry would be reluctant to support changes to resource management law for example that tighten emissions controls and force them to spend money on installing scrubbers, despite the existing argument that the scrubbers would pay for themselves by enabling more efficient burning.

Part of this is no doubt intended to appeal to National’s Blue Greens, who are the segment of the party with concerns about environmental sustainability. The Blue Greens were delighted in April 2007 when the then Leader of the Opposition John Key said the key areas for the National Party would be economy, education and the environment. But during the 8 years Mr Key was in office the party largely paid lip service to the Blue Greens and I cannot help but wonder if it will wind up doing the same again this time.

It is not that there are no opportunities for innovation and job growth. On the contrary, one of the great opportunities afforded by the need to tackle climate change is unlocking green research, science and technology. This could be boosted by raising the percentage of the G.D.P. that New Zealand spends on research, science and technology which has been hovering around a mediocre 0.9% in contrast with other O.E.C.D. countries.

Will partisan politics wind up getting in the way of a multi-lateral approach involving cross party support from both Opposition and Government parties? One would hope not. New Zealand needs to tackle this issue, because the damage to our environmental reputation if we do not would be simply too much for a country of our size to handle.

So, I welcome National’s commitment to doing something about climate change. There is a lot of water to go under this bridge, but it is a start.

Public perceptions of e-waste in New Zealand


Between 72,000 and 85,000 tons of electronic waste accumulate in New Zealand each year. Electronic waste has many valuable minerals in its composition such as gold and copper, which can be found in commercial quantities and have considerable value.

Only about 1% of the e-waste that accumulates each year is ever properly recycled, dismantled or salvaged. The potential environmental risks are considerable – toxic elements such as lead and mercury whose poisonous effects are well known, along other not so well known but similarly toxic elements such as cadmium, can leach into groundwater, contaminate the soil and release harmful dust. All of these have potential vectors into the human body by swallowing, inhalation or touch.

However there is a growing awareness that this is not sustainable and risks causing lasting damage to New Zealand’s reputation. But also there is much wastage in gold, copper and other valuable minerals by the failure to extract them. Gold and copper are estimated to be dumped in e-waste at quantities of 600 kilogrammes and 600 tons respectively. There will be a market for that much of those two minerals.

As part of the academic requirements for my Graduate Diploma of Sustainable Management, I am required to conduct original research. Knowing what I have mentioned above has inspired me to do mine in e-waste. My research question is:

What are the public perceptions of electronic waste in New Zealand, with a view to starting a public discourse on the issue.

To this end I am doing a survey examining peoples understanding of electronic waste as an issue, asking for their views on it and whether thei council is doing enough

If you live in New Zealand and are keen to participate, I would love to hear from you. Please e-mail me at robertglennie000@gmail.com to find out more – you will be given a survey in MS Word format to do. It is not a long one. Likewise if you have experience working with e-waste either in a planning, handling or other role, I would be very happy to hear what your thoughts are.