’Tis the season for free trade dealings

The Epoch Times | Dec 12, 2006

’Tis the Season for Free Trade Dealings

By Barry Mills

Epoch Times New Zealand Staff

New Zealand’s rush for Asia-Pacific free trade agreements was slowed by a typhoon in the Phillipines, but sped up through a partnership agreement with the Republic of Korea.

Typhoon Seniang — or terrorist threats, some say — sent Foreign Ministers packing from the tiny island of Mactan last week after hastily concluding the preliminary part of the second East Asia Summit (EAS).

The 12th Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) gathering in the Philippines has been rescheduled to early January 2007.

Partnership for the 21st Century

Prime Minister Helen Clark and Republic of Korea President Roh Moo-hyun last Friday adopted the Partnership for the 21st Century.

A key component of the Partnership is a study into the merits of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between New Zealand and Korea, said Miss Clark, who is "delighted to see the Partnership adopted."

Attempts to help improve trade relations saw the New Zealand government promising to back South Korea in their bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympics, according to a report in the Dominion.

South Korea is currently New Zealand’s seventh-largest trading partner with total trade worth NZ$2.229 billion last year. It is New Zealand’s sixth-largest export market.

"Committed" to East Asia Summit success

Foreign Minister Winston Peters, New Zealand’s representative at EAS, said New Zealand was very pleased to be part of the East Asia Summit process.

"The EAS is an important outward-looking regional grouping and we are fully committed to its success."

Mr Peters joined other Ministers from non-ASEAN countries China, Japan, India, Australia and the Republic of Korea.

The economic ministers of the 10-member nations of the regional grouping signed six economic agreements last Friday night that would expand further trade and commerce in the region, said Philippines President Macapagal-Arroyo.

Two of the agreements were with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

"The signing of the Protocols reaffirms ASEAN commitment to accelerate economic integration and enhance overall competitiveness of the ASEAN countries," Philippines Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila said.

"The agreements with China, on the other hand, would speed up implementation of the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement." New Zealand’s Free Trade negotiations with China are scheduled to resume in January.

Free Trade impact on workers

With New Zealand hoping to be the first western country to sign a free trade agreement with the Chinese communist regime, and the fast-tracking of ASEAN nations to free up trade of services, some sectors are worried about the impact on workers’ conditions.

Trevor Hanson, the General Secretary, of the Maritime Union of New Zealand, believes free trade is a threat to jobs and conditions here.

"Free trade is really just an extension of the free market to the global level. It is about integrating us with the global economy, but ignores that the global economy has some terrible things occurring in it," said Mr Hanson, "We cannot separate the way the economy is from the social problems we face."

He said that these agreements can often go further than just moving goods around.

"It covers areas such as the movement of short-term labour, domestic regulations and investment, or who owns our economy," said Mr Hanson."

When CCP Commerce Minister Bo Xilai visited here in 2006 he told the Herald that he had raised the issue of importing workers.

Concern of individual’s rights being replaced

Speakers at a Human Rights Day forum last Sunday highlighted trade as an area of concern for countries struggling to raise their social, economic and cultural levels.

Head of Oxfam New Zealand Barry Coates said that many of the drivers of human rights abuses are found within the unjust systems people have to live in.

"One of these systems is the trading system - weighted towards rich countries and their multi-national companies." He said there is a dangerous trend where individual human rights are being usurped by the rights given to companies.

"If you look at international trade agreements, they are no longer so much about tariffs and quotas - what they are about is the rights of companies to move wherever they like in the world and not be regulated adequately by governments in the public interest."

New Zealand and Australia both forged ties with ASEAN countries in 2004, looking to access a market of at least 550 million people with a combined GDP of over US$800 billion.

The annual ASEAN and East Asia Summits bring together the leaders of 10 Southeast Asian nations, and their counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea. Leaders of New Zealand, Australia, India and East Timor are also expected to attend.

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source: Epoch Times