Earth Times | 2008-07-04
New Zealand business group warns on Asian free trade pact
Author : DPA
Wellington — A New Zealand business group warned the government Friday against signing a free trade pact with the 10-member Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) that did not set a timetable for abolishing duties on meat and dairy products. Graeme Harrison, chairman of the New Zealand International Business Forum, said, "We are concerned that the outcome might be less than fully comprehensive. Excluding key sectors run the risk of setting unfortunate precedents."
The group’s statement came after 14 rounds of negotiations on a free trade agreement between ASEAN and New Zealand and Australia, who have their own bilateral pact.
New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has told businessmen a final agreement is close, but Harrison said the Forum understood that ASEAN negotiators were trying to limit the scope of tariff cuts on meat and dairy products.
He said those products were "the backbone of the New Zealand economy" and accounted for 55 per cent of New Zealand’s exports to ASEAN.
Agreeing to exclusion of meat and dairy products or accepting that some tariffs should continue would send the wrong signal to other countries which New Zealand had potential free trade pacts in sight, especially South Korea, Japan and the United States, Harrison said.
"We accept this has been a difficult negotiation and that it involves multiple partners," he said. "We recognize too the opportunity of negotiating alongside Australia. But FTAs must at the end of the day make sense for New Zealand’s international business strategy."