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Singapore Free Trade Agreement Submissions
21 October 2000
Show trials in totalitarian regimes can have only one outcome, but go through the charade just for show. The Select Committee hearing submissions into the Singapore free trade agreement has just completed a similar sham. Its political masters would allow it no other outcome than approval of the agreement. Even its report admitted as much. "By the time a treaty is presented to the House, it will normally have already been adopted by the States Parties and will often have been signed by the New Zealand Government as well", it said. "'Two way' consultation is not possible". It admits that consultation was insufficient and that its submission timeline was too short.
Even though the Deputy Prime Minister has told us he asked MFAT to consult with opponents of the Agreement, Gatt Watchdog and a number of other interested parties were not invited to briefings.
The process the Committee followed was so hasty that even its report is full of errors. It attributes comments to Gatt Watchdog even though we never made a submission. We did however, send a letter to the committee outlining why we would not participate in such a sham.
It claims to have advertised for submissions on 9 September, before the Agreement was even presented to Parliament on 11 September. In fact it didn't advertise until 16 September in Wellington and 18 September elsewhere, giving those few who heard about it only a week to get hold of a copy of the complex 192 page text and make a submission.
It misquotes submissions and glosses over major issues.
Concerns at the favourable position Singapore retains through its extensive government-linked companies and regulations are barely covered.
Worries that Singapore involvement in New Zealand tertiary education and research could undermine academic freedom are dismissed with an inaccurate reference to the law.
The use of Singapore as a back door to New Zealand by multinational corporations is barely analysed.
It dismisses significant local government concerns in less than a paragraph. Yet those concerns came from major Councils including Christchurch, Manukau, and Horowhenua, and Local Government New Zealand. Dunedin City Council was not allowed to make a late submission despite its mayor's attendance at the hearings.
It does not refute arguments that the tariff removals are in opposition to Government policy to freeze tariffs, nor that those tariffs are beneficial.
Even on the issue of process, where the Select Committee could have made a stand to ensure there is proper, informed consultation with the New Zealand public, with early release of drafts of the text, it makes only general statements of support for a longer time frame and more consultation. But it says that its future part in the process will again be a charade of inquiring into agreements that have already been committed to.
And then there is the inevitable conclusion: the majority of the Committee supports the Agreement. The grand coalition of National and Labour overrode all concerns.
Nothing that anyone could say - and did say at great personal cost - could have changed that. The hearing and submissions were just for show. New Zealand has lost another piece of its independence after another stifled debate.
Contact: Bill Rosenberg (03) 332 8525 or Aziz Choudry, GATT Watchdog, PO Box 1905, Christchurch, tel: (03) 366 2803, fax: (03) 366 8035.
For more information on the Singapore Free Trade Agreement, including recent updates on this article, see the index page on globalisation