Thursday 23rd June 2011
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Revelations that China has been imposing sanctions at will on New Zealand dairy products raise questions about the value of free trade deals, the Maritime Union says.
New Zealand's booming dairy export trade with China has been hit with trade sanctions at least seven times since the free trade agreement between the countries began in 2008, Overseas Trade Minister Tim Groser told Radio New Zealand.
But he said dairy exports to China had surged despite the sanctions, going from under $500 million to more than $2 billion in four years - "that is astonishing".
The level of milkpowder imported by China had quadrupled since 2008 when consumers there lost confidence in local milk that had been adulterated with the industrial chemical melamine, killing at least six babies and making another 300,000 children ill.
But Maritime Union general secretary Joe Fleetwood said "free trade" had been promoted by Government and big business as a grand solution to all New Zealand's economic problems, but they had a downside.
"We see free trade agreements harming or threatening the interests of working people," he said.
"It is about more than commerce, it is about controlling our destiny.
"Under free trade deals, New Zealand people are no longer in charge of our own country."
Fleetwood said powerful nations and massive corporations were setting the rules, with implications for issues such as job losses at Dunedin's Hillside rail workshop, attacks on New Zealand's ability to buy medicines through Pharmac, and the copyright debate over file-sharing laws.
Free trade agreements were part of the deregulation and free market policies that the union believed led to recession and economic instability.
"New Zealand needs to keep its ability to make decisions for our own benefit, and manage our trade to ensure a balanced economy that is not just dependent on one or two commodities," he said.
Groser said China was playing within the rules of its free trade agreement with New Zealand, and Dairy Companies Association executive director Simon Tucker said the trade deal allowed China to use sanctions to safeguard its industry.
Lincoln University's professor of agribusiness Keith Woodford estimated that half of dairy exports to China had been affected.
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