We need to focus on adding value to our exports, not just creating more volume

National’s new trade agenda looks backwards not forwards

Today’s announcement on trade by Bill English amounts to more of the same. More trade deals that will deliver increasingly modest benefits far in the future. This is a justification for their current approach, not a trade strategy.

Hardly a week goes by when we aren’t hearing about some announcement on trade negotiations, often the same deals repeatedly re-announced. The proliferation of more and more bilateral trade deals has resulted in a spaghetti bowl of different standards and requirements that leave exporters confused and bearing high administration costs.

trade containers shipping

These deals also fail to deal with two crucial issues – agricultural subsidies and a credible system of dispute settlement. These issues can be addressed only in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), but the deals National is pushing are outside the WTO.

The Green Party recognises that multilateral rules are the only way to prevent smaller countries being bullied by the big players. We need a better WTO, with rules that are fit for purpose in an era of climate change and growing concern over social and environmental issues, but multilateralism is crucial. The government’s approach of undermining multilateral rules through a plethora of bilateral deals is the wrong approach.

The government would like to characterise anyone expressing concern over recent trade deals as being against trade. That’s not true.

The Green Party backs the New Zealand companies that are competing internationally and generating benefits in terms of jobs, skills and inspiration for others. We want them to succeed and we have strategies that will support them.

For example, most of our exporters gain hugely from our international reputation – our clean green image. However, as the OECD’s report on the New Zealand environment said this week, the government is ruining our hard-won reputation.

Allowing oil drilling on the shores of pristine Lake Te Anau and the gateway to Milford Sound, New Zealand’s most popular tourist attraction, puts our clean green brand at risk. But that is precisely what National announced this week.

Instead, countries like Ireland are laying claim to being the champion of green, sustainable, grass fed, GE-free and no hormones. They are eating our lunch. These are the attributes that a growing number of consumers want to see, but the government downplays the drive for sustainability, and undermines our reputation. The primary sector, tourism and a range of exporters rely on our reputation.

We need more value from our exports, not necessarily more volume. The government’s trade policy remains embedded in a low-value, high-volume commodity export framework, rather than the shift to higher value products, processing for market needs, knowledge-intensive exports and complex manufactured products.

We need to focus on value, not volume.

Bob Harvey, Barry Coates and James Shaw
Green Party trade spokesperson Barry Coates with co-leader James Shaw and former Mayor of Waitakere Bob Harvey

The Prime Minister’s speech conveniently ignores these approaches and the issues around trade deals that have been of most concern to New Zealanders and to a growing number of trade partners overseas – more onerous rules on patents that would see the price of medicines rise; longer protection for copyright, far beyond the lifetime of the creator, raising costs and stifling innovation; restrictions on governments’ rights to regulate foreign companies; and a mechanism that would allow foreign investors to challenge our government in an unaccountable international tribunal.

The Greens in government would negotiate hard to secure market access for our exporters, but within a strategy that works for all New Zealanders, not a few. This means transparency and consultation in trade negotiations, not secrecy; support for SMEs and local business, not preferences for large multinationals; high social and environmental standards, not restrictions on governments from regulating in the public interest; and credible forms of dispute settlement, not unaccountable tribunals that sit above our Parliament and our courts.

We have opportunities to develop a coherent trade strategy, working collaboratively with the EU and a growing number of developing countries. The challenges of the 21st Century require a new, forward-looking approach.

Trevlayan’s cool store in Te Puke – sustainable kiwifruit packing for export