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TPPA : Will you make the TPPA process transparent? Labour Leadership Q&A #3

Posted by on September 11th, 2013

14 Questions for 2014

Virtual Hustings Meeting – Question 3

TPPA : Will you make the TPPA process transparent?

Explanatory Note: From September 10th to 14th 2013 as part of the official selection process for a new leader the New Zealand Labour Party is holding a “Virtual Hustings Meeting” hosted by Red Alert and organised by Scoop Amplifier. Over 7 days questions were solicited from eligible voters in the election. The questions and answers are now being posted as a set of 14 posts at the Red Alert Labour Party Blog starting yesterday (Tuesday 10th September), till Friday 13th September. At Red Alert all-comers are welcome to discuss the answers in the comment section of the blog. The three candidates are expected to participate in these discussions at times over the five days till Saturday 14th September.

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Question : What are your views on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement? Will you make the TPPA process transparent?

Submitted by : Cushla Dillon, Auckland

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LABOUR LEADERSHIP CANDIDATES’ ANSWERS

Answer from Grant Robertson

The TPPA is more than a normal trade agreement and needs to be treated as such, with caution.

I am a supporter of trade agreements that gain our exporters access to markets that will mean they can create jobs here in New Zealand. But we have to ensure that our rights to make laws, regulate and protect our people and environment is upheld.

In the case of the TPPA we must set clear bottom lines. No change to the PHARMAC model, protection of IP and copyright law, and ensuring our sovereign right to regulate and make policy is supported.

We do need more transparency in the way we deal with trade. I would set up an independent trade advisory group with representation from across the community to ensure there is public participation and understanding of our approach to trade agreements. We must be at the table for these sorts of negotiations, but it is vital that it is a Labour Government at the table.

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Answer from David Cunliffe

I am concerned about the TPPA. We cannot trade-away our ability to set government regulation. I am worried that John Key and his Government will continue to keep us all in the dark about the text and its implications and I fear they will then present us with the final text some time near the end of this year and insist that we accept it otherwise we will harm our trading relationships.

This will leave us with little or no opportunity to consult with our communities about its potential implications.

We must protect Pharmac, ensure intellectual property provisions are suitable for New Zealand business, and we must not accept limits on our sovereign right to regulate. Any agreement must be in New Zealand’s best interest.

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Answer from Shane Jones

A very challenging issue. It is vitally important we retain the capacity for our Parliament to regulate for public good.

It is essential that this deal does not hobble our technical industries through punitive patents. Ultimately however I do not want to see our Trade partners in a club without us.

ENDS


Moving on to the next challenge

Posted by on February 25th, 2013

I have enjoyed the Health portfolio. It is huge and arguably, it takes longer than one year to get around and establish networks. I have been doing that in the past year and I am grateful to all those who were prepared to engage intelligently and repeatedly with me. I have been pleased to stick up for diabetics in the disastrous changeover to the Care Sens blood glucose meters. It was a mistake and should be rescinded. It affects the way people manage their diabetes and directly impacts their well being, especially for Type 1 diabetics.

I have also made a running on the increase in prescription charges, changes to pharmacists’ contracts with the DHBs, and the burden of implementation of changes falling on local pharmacies. This sector is in chaos and Tony Ryall continues to pretend that there is nothing to see here. Shelves full of uncollected prescriptions would say otherwise. If people can’t afford medicines, and some clearly can’t, we are only going to see additional hospitalisations further town the track.  This isn’t rocket science – just medical science.

But now I take up a new challenge with the Environment portfolio.  And there are challenges aplenty.  We would all love our myth of being 100% pure to become fact again but we need aggressive leadership in this area if that is ever to happen. From our waterways to our air quality, and much more besides, there is much to do to restore our natural environment and to protect it for future generations.  I look forward to that challenge.

Thanks again to all you good health folk for working with me over the last year.  Keep up the good work!


Steven Joyce Can’t Count

Posted by on February 29th, 2012

An embarrassing slip occurred by Steven Joyce in the House today.

When I asked in a supplementary to his own patsy question by how many billion the current account defict was forecast to deteriorate over the next four years, he said “less than 5″ and said he based the estimate on the PREFU (Treasury’s pre-election fiscal update).

The actual number in the PREFU is down to $17.6 billion. Nowhere close to sub $5 bn. He then blamed the earthquake for the deterioration. In fact, the PREFU forecasts estimate only a quarter of the deterioration as eathquake related.

Mr Joyce has not corrected the errors – which is required under standing orders at the earliest opportuity.

His problem is that reducing the current account deficit is one of the most basic goals of economic development policy. Not knowingthe headline numbers is embarrasssing. Just making it up is downright risky.

This is the same minister busily negotiating “deals” with corporates, casinos and media moguls. I wonder how many Kiwis would trust his financial nous if he keeps fluffing the numbers?

Bill English is smiling inside.


Trade policy released

Posted by on October 28th, 2011

I released our Trade policy this evening, as promised. Trade is a bipartisan issue because both National and Labour recognise that we are too small and our electoral cycle is too short to risk our exporters’ efforts and foreign direct investment in our industries, by potentially pulling the policy rug out from under them every three years. So we both promote New Zealand’s trading interests overseas equally.

So it will come as no surprise that we wish to build on the international market access we have gained in recent years, particularly in Asia after the successful FTA with China, signed by Phil Goff.

Labour will support the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations as they proceed but Pharmac remains a bottom line for us. It works for the public good of New Zealanders and should not be compromised, despite pressure from large multinational pharmaceutical companies.

We need more openness and better engagement of civil society in our trade relationships, and so we will establish a Trade Advisory Commission to give contestable advice to the Minister about trade relationships. This Commission would comprise union, business, exporter, academic and NGO interests.

Where we differ from the National Party however in the Trade area is in the fundamentals of monetary policy which underpins the environment in which our struggling exporters work. We will alter monetary policy by introducing a Capital Gains Tax which will moderate interest rates, which will in turn take pressure off the exchange rate. We will broaden the Reserve Bank’s objectives to include employment and the health of the export sector amongst other things in its brief. We will put an exporter on the Board of the Reserve Bank to represent their interests.

And more besides……to see the whole policy, go here.


Trade policy to be released tomorrow

Posted by on October 27th, 2011

I will be releasing Labour’s trade policy tomorrow at my campaign launch in Nelson. That is a good place to do it because the Nelson region is built on fine primary tradeable commodities. And yet our exporters, from pipfruit growers to the forestry sector, are having difficulties of one sort or another. It should be up on the website by about 5.30pm. Watch this space – or one like it!


Foreign Affairs = more than trade

Posted by on October 21st, 2011

You could be forgiven for thinking that our only interest in other countries under this government, is how much money we can make out of them.

Yesterday, at an NZIIA seminar at Victoria University, I released our Foreign Affairs policy. MurrayMcCully had given the opening speech and every country or region he mentioned was couched in terms of our Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with them, an emerging FTA with them, the desirability of an FTA or other bilateral economic agreement with them and how well we were doing because of them.

Don’t get me wrong – I am a great supporter of FTAs as long as we don’t concede our sovereignty and they can be negotiated in a more open way which engages the non-government sector as well. But for Labour, Foreign Affairs is also about peace, security, conflict resolution, disarmament, multilateralism, human rights, climate change, environmental protection and restoration, disaster relief, good governance and democratic representation, and most importantly, people to people exchanges and relationships.

Without a viable and secure planet, all the global supply chains you can think of count for nothing.

Our independent foreign policy is a source of great pride for us. It has been most enhanced in our history by great Labour Prime Ministers: Peter Fraser, Norman Kirk, David Lange and Helen Clark. We will build on that tradition.

We will bring human rights and a commitment to multilateral international decision-making back to the fore again. They have been languishing on the back burner under the National government.

Have a look at the policy – comments are welcomed.

Oh – and for those who wonder why there is no mention of Afghanistan – that is simply because our position on that is well known, has been well reported and has been the same since late 2005. In case you have missed it (!) : Labour would not have sent the fourth rotation of SAS troops back to Afghanistan. The SAS should no longer be deployed there. A Labour government will bring them home. We will progressively withdraw our Provincial Reconstruction Team as well, in an exit strategy worked out in consultation with other forces with whom we are working in Bamyan. The fight can only be won in Afghanistan if the government there wins the hearts and minds of the people. That hasn’t happened. Time to come home.


“We need more cheap foreign fishermen”

Posted by on October 17th, 2011

An outrageous submission (and in the current Rena situation, unfortunate) from SeaFIC on the first day of the hearings of the Ministerial Inquiry into the treatment of crew on Foreign Chartered Vessels in the Fishing Industry.

New Zealand’s fishing industry needs more cheap Asian labour not less, the Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) told a ministerial inquiry into the use of foreign charter vessels (FCVs).

SeaFIC says New Zealand-flagged fishing boats cannot get local crews and they now want to import low wage labour as well. Despite high unemployment it was hard to get New Zealanders to work on fishing boats.

SeaFIC says FCVs hiring Asian crews was no different to companies going to low wage countries.

“Many New Zealand businesses have exported jobs previously done in New Zealand to other countries with wage rates considerably less than minimum wage rates in New Zealand.”

New Zealand was seen in other countries as a source of cheap skilled labour and pointed to Qantas hiring New Zealand crews at rates lower than Australians would get. The New Zealand film industry was based on cheap labour, SeaFIC said. (hah, funny that!)

SeaFIC say there is no evidence that FCV companies are failing to pay their crews according a code of practice which requires crews to receive the New Zealand minimum wage.

New Zealand’s reputation is not a function of compliance by the companies, but the result of public opinion.

“The intensity of comment in the media, whether based on fact or allegation, may present risk to international reputation.”

Yeah right.


Boock hits spinning Key for six

Posted by on October 13th, 2011

Richard Boock has a wonderful ability to make us think and laugh at the same time. His latest piece is a classic


Disaster Tourism? I know, fair enough; it does sound quite bad. But we’ve got to look at the positives. John Key reckons the maritime emergency off Tauranga would be much worse if Labour were in power. He’d had that on good authority, apparently. Someone told him that, if there were to be a change of government, the next oil slick would be far more widespread, the crude more toxic and the weather more extreme. Kiwis would probably die.

Even so, Tourism NZ’s “100% Pure” campaign is in tatters. A Twitter pal was suggesting some new slogans the other day. “Come to New Zealand – Wash a Penguin”, was a favourite. “New Zealand – Where Endangered Species Become Extinct”, also polled well. I could see her point, too. It worked in Chernobyl, after all. Tourism there is (almost) bringing the place back to life. What genius; being able to rape the countryside and profit from it as well. Talk about a win-win.

Say what you like about Key’s National-led government but its ability to see the cost of everything and the value of nothing remains undiminished. “There’s Always A Silver Lining” should be on its coat of arms. Four days of inaction while the Rena’s oil was salvageable. Declining offers of expert assistance. Using dodgy and possibly more toxic chemicals than the crude oil as a dispersant. Treating the locals like idiots. Haven’t we heard all this before?

Ah well, we can’t say they haven’t been consistent. When it comes to the importance of the environment, the Nats have always placed it well down their list of priorities. Unless it can be flogged off, that is. Hence the Prime Minister on breakfast TV yesterday desperately claiming that the Rena disaster wouldn’t highlight concerns over his government’s deep sea oil exploration programme. Don’t know about you, but I think he may have jumped the gun there a bit.


Pharmac and the TPPA

Posted by on May 15th, 2011

Iain, Maryan and Clare have all written on the problems with the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, in particular the threat posed by a push by the US pharamaceutical industry to Pharmac, New Zealand’s drug buying agency. Lobbyists are on the case on behalf of the US companies, as they attempt to make changes through the negotiations.

There is a good piece on-line today that highlights the growing campaign, and the opposition to it.

Essentially, Pharmac is the government’s drug buyer, and has control over what subsidised drugs are available to New Zealanders. While there might be criticisms of individual decisions by Pharmac (think Herceptin), there is no doubt they have saved New Zealand millions of dollars through being able to bid down prices and obtain generic drugs.

Gareth Morgan and Geoff Simmons are quoted in the article above.  In their work on the health sector have become big fans of the Pharmac model. They support the model not only because it has kept costs down, but also because the stringent approach from Pharmac has meant that tried and true drugs are approved rather than experimental ones that have had to be withdrawn from other markets.

Its good to see support for Pharmac from the government in the article above, though it does not completely re-assure me in terms of the TPPA negotiations. We need a definitive statement from the government that playing around with Pharmac’s mandate is off the table in the negotiations.

I have long been a supporter of quality free-trade agreements where New Zealand exporters can get demonstrable benefits, and where we can continue to manage our economy and society as we see fit. However, in addition to the concerns about the transparency of the TPPA (which are important), I am struggling with what New Zealand can get from this agreement. The chances of a decent advance on agricultural access are highly unlikely. More to the point we have very little left to negotiate with. The “lay down misere” approach that New Zealand took to trade negotiations in the 1990s has left us with almost no cards to play in these discussions. As the TPPA negotiations continue it gets harder to see what we will get from it, and easier to see how our economic sovereignty could be compromised.


Remaining alert on the TPP

Posted by on November 21st, 2010

John Armstrong wrote a good piece in the Saturday NZ Herald on Key’s trip to Japan last week for APEC and talks on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

I would have missed it because was consumed with other matters, so thanks to Eddie at The Standard for your piece on it.

I first wrote about the TPP on Red Alert in May.

My interest is in NZ ensuring it doesn’t sell out our ability to control out intellectual property, particularly in the digital environment. New Zealand produced content is our economic edge. It’s also our identity.

I remain alert. And thanks for the funny bits in your piece John.

PS: The TPP is a grouping of nine countries – New Zealand, Brunei, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, the United States, Australia and Malaysia -  currently negotiating a free trade pact which would phase-down tariffs to zero in all sectors. Japan is thinking about joining up.


Currency intervention: Two clips

Posted by on November 11th, 2010

As the Kiwi dollar rises past 80c US and  70c TWI to unsustainable levels, the debate about currency intervention will become white hot.  Our manufacturing exporters are being killed out there.   Here is John Walley (MEA CEO) from TV1 Breakfast this morning.

Labour is calling for the Govt to get off its butt and use its armies of bureaucrats to get thinking about options.  It is not OK to cry “TINA” – ‘there is no alternative’.  There has to be, or manufacturing is finished in New Zealand and farmers are in for a rude shock when the commodity price spike ends.  

In this interview on TV1 Business (at the bleary hour of 6.10 this morning!) I advocate for tactical currency intervention by the Reserve Bank to knock the top off the spike, and monetary reform to help chart a manageable adjustment path.  That must be done alongside a clear stratagy for domestic industry adjustment – investment in the jobs of tomorrow and transitional assistance for displaced workers.   I wouldn’t usually post one of my own clips, but as no-one watched it and at that hour and as TV1 called it a stinging attack, RA viewers might find it interesting…


Who is running the country?

Posted by on November 1st, 2010

At some point John Key has to demonstrate that it’s his govt that is running the country and making decisions that it is accountable for and stop blaming everything on the previous Labour government.

On Breakfast TV this morning John Key was asked about the government’s response to Labour’s challenge to the govt to lower the blood alcohol limit.

As he and all his Ministers usually do, he first started by saying that Labour had nine long years to do something. And then went on to say he was doing very little and why it wasn’t on his government’s agenda.

Well now he’s had two years and there’s not much to show for it other than some bad laws, some new roads and more crime.

There’s less jobs to go round, people are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet, the wage gap between NZ and Australia is getting bigger and John Key goes to an East Asian Summit and says he’s met some really important people.

Here’s what Key said he did in Vietnam:

“If you think about the lunch we went to, the richest man in the world was there in the form of the sultan of Brunei, and the largest most populated country in the world was there in the form of China and India and the like,” he said.

Underwhelming.


PS to Where’s the Beef?

Posted by on October 31st, 2010

Quiz question – In which Leonard Cohen song do the words “where’s the beef?” appear?

First correct answer gets a small but perfectly formed reward ;-)


Where’s the beef?

Posted by on October 31st, 2010

I got back from a trip to Washington today to hear our media outlets trying hard to say something of substance  about John Key’s visit to the East Asia Summit in Ha Noi. So, I might be a bit imbued with things American after a a few days there, but I am reminded of an old American advertising slogan  which Wendy’s ran in the 80s against a fictitious rival. Their (imaginary) hamburger was all fluffy bun and a tiny meat pattie, so Wendy’s slogan became “Where’s the beef?” It was taken up by Walter Mondale against Gary Hart in the Democrat Presidential primaries in 1984 when he said that every time Gary Hart said “new ideas” he was reminded of the ad which said “where’s the beef?”

And so it is with John Key and the East Asia Summit. Our PM,  aka Mr Smile-and-Wave, sat next to Gen Thein Sein from Burma for dinner because Myanmar comes just before NZ in the alphabetical seating arrangements. According to one media report (NZPA), Key told him “that NZ had some concerns and wanted a proper democratic election” – as opposed to the pre-ordained elections due to occur on 7 November. Say what? The whole NZ Parliament passed a resolution unanimously a few weeks ago, calling on the Burmese junta to release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, allowing them and her to participate in the elections, and calling for the junta to allow the 3 freedoms – association, speech and assembly. Don’t you think he could have “beefed” it up a bit?

Then according to Newstalk ZB, he said he had “a feeling” (!) that Japan was interested in joining the Trans Pacific Partnership, this really complicated trade deal amongst some Pacific-rim countries, including us and America. Where’s the beef PM? Or the seafood, or the value-added timber products, or the technology and IP? Did he talk to them about their position on agricultural subsidies?

Then, poor old Jessica Mutch was reduced to telling us how they had to go through scanners in Ha Noi, in a brave attempt to give the meeting some gravitas. That’s only because there was no substance to report. Where’s the beef PM?

What about the comment on Russia – “they’re a really interesting market”?!! Can he see it from his kitchen window too?

Then there is John Key’s exchange with Hillary Clinton. It was “relatively brief” he said because he is going to meet her this week in NZ. This is arguably our most important US exchange in his term so far.  A few days ago, Jonathan Milne in the Herald was “beefing” up expectations around this. Let’s see if John Key can deliver some beef this time, not just a fluffy bun.


A Shortcut to Disaster

Posted by on October 28th, 2010

I have learnt today that the Food Safety Authority in collaboration with the meat Industry are about to conduct a trial on a new system of meat inspection at freezing works without the assistance of Meat Inspectors.

It is an interesting contradiction and my fear is that industry self regulation is the object of the exercise. Such ideals have proven all too often to be disastrous from international experience. At a time when the meat industry is under extreme pressure at every level from farmer to marketplace the risk is that inadequate inspection leading to any form of contaminated export meat would cripple our meat exports and reputation as a quality food producing nation.

Apparently no details have been made available to the meat inspectors so the assumption is that chain workers will carry out assessment of the health of the carcasses and the Vets will sign off the consignments for export. If you presume no skill is necessary to be a meat inspector we might be ok. But as I know to get the inspections spot on takes training, skill and experience. One mistake identified by our trading buyers and we are doomed.

The question is, does the risk justify the cost savings if any over time?? It is also ironic that in Select Committee today the Food Safety Authority was trying to convince us of the importance of robust systems for food safety under the new Food Bill.

There will be a few hard Questions for them at the next meeting !!!


Has the Groser experiment been successful.?

Posted by on July 18th, 2010

Every now and again, political parties bring acknowledged experts into their caucuses (almost always on the list) in an effort to bolster core competency and skills in a specialist area.  Sometimes these individuals do well; sometimes they don’t.  What history does show, however, is that no matter how smart or successful a person has been in a previous career, political experience and smarts cannot be fast-tracked.

There is no doubting Tim Groser’s experience as a trade diplomat.  The fact that a few in NZ’s international trade circles don’t speak as highly of him as he does of himself may be professional jealousy – or simply the size of his formidable ego, but that is another story.

The question I ask re the success of the Groser experiment has nothing to do with his trade negotiation competencies, but rather concerns his skills as a political operator around the cabinet table.

John Key and Bill English speak constantly about growing NZ’s export markets, and we recently heard Mr Key say that we should be aiming to double our trade with China.  Well, most parties (Greens exempted – they’ve voted against every FTA this term) agree with increasing the level, volume, consistently, sustainability and quality of our exports, but how is the country’s business community supposed to take advantage of the potential opportunities that FTAs present when the Nats have just cut millions from successful trade development schemes?  When I asked Groser about this in parliament he gave the typically smart-arse answer that he expected his staff to do more with less.  Okay…

The bottom line is that the national rhetoric simply does not match the trade funding.

The advantage to the country in having someone like Phil Goff as Trade Minister is that not only was he excellent around the international negotiation table, but also just as competent a negotiator around the cabinet table.  Someone as seasoned and smart as Phil knew exactly how to negotiate the minefield that is the budget process and who to talk to and deal with when securing funding for his portfolio.  It is these skills – as well as portfolio competencies – that make a very successful Minister.

This is why I ask the question if the Groser experiment has been successful.  There is no point negotiating FTA’s if NZ companies haven’t the competencies and / or backup and / or support to internationalise their products and services.  The cuts to trade development funding during Groser’s time as Trade Minister cannot be ignored.

Do more with less Mr Groser.?  Hmmm.  Somehow I don’t think this is the right answer.  Surely NZ companies with export potential deserve better.  What it does prove, is just how effective Phil Goff was as a champion for NZ trade.    And what a great PM he will make.!!

Filed under: trade

Is NZ ready to take advantage of new FTAs?

Posted by on June 26th, 2010

During urgency last week, parliament ratified, through amending legislation, two new FTAs: one with Malaysia and the other with Hong Kong (technically, the HK treaty is called a Closer Economic Partnership (CEP) agreement).

Labour supported the passage of both Bills.  After all, former Labour Trade Ministers Jim Sutton and Phil Goff did the ground work.  However, I have major concerns about the government’s (and Grosser’s) ability to put the framework in place that will allow NZ companies to take advantage of these agreements. 

In last year’s budget the govt cut $110m over 4 years from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s (NZTE) budget, thereby slashing the funding that Labour had directed towards developing NZ international markets.

Why is a government overseas development agency important?  I could write a book on this, however, in a nutshell, 97% of NZ companies are SMEs (they employ 19 staff or less).  This means the vast majority that may have export potential simply do not have the resources to: a) employ a full time International Marketing or Market Development Manager, b) set up an office in an off-shore market, or c) fund the level of due diligence necessary to justify capital expansion in order to become ‘export-ready’. 

Only 12% of our exports now go to Europe – and these two FTAs were ratified with countries that have completely different cultures, customs, languages, legal systems etc.  Exporting into Asia is a whole new ball game and success requires a significant level of competency that is in short supply in NZ.  The Fonterra’s and Fletcher’s will be able to take advantage of these FTAs as they do have the resources, knowledge and networks, but as we know, these firms are few and far between. 

This is where NZTE should come to the fore.  This government organisation should, in my view, be NZ’s international eyes and ears (and a lot more besides…).  About 6 months ago, I asked the retiring CEO of NZTE if his organisation was NZ’s international market development manager, and he replied “if only…”. 

How can NZ achieve an international vision when $110m has been cut to the budget of the country’s off-shore operators?  Quite simply, we can’t. 

I think we all agree (except the Greens..) that if NZ is to achieve a high level of sustainable economic growth, it has to be though a much greater level of international engagement (ie grow our export volumes, value and competencies).  Negotiating free trade agreements is an important step, however, helping NZ companies see the possibilities and reach their potential is vital if we are going to make it a reality.  National is failing on this one I am afraid.

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Filed under: trade

Perhaps China needs to chill?

Posted by on June 20th, 2010

Predictably, there are different responses emerging to the Russel Scuffle outside parliament on Friday.

John Key says it’s “disappointing”. Murray McCully on Q & A this morning blamed Russel Norman. Others on the panel said it was “bad manners.”

Phil Goff defended the right of New Zealanders to protest at parliament saying : “We expect people to be respectful to our visitors, but we also retain the right to protest peacefully.”

Dr Jian Yang From Auckland University says Chinese security handled the incident badly and created even more publicity, which distracted from the visit itself.  He said that it was quite a typical reaction from China to protests overseas and there have been similar cases in other places.

The Chinese are saying something different. Here’s the response from a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry who called the incident “a demonstrator’s harassment of a Chinese delegation….” :

“At the invitation of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping paid an official visit to New Zealand starting on June 17. He was warmly welcomed and well received by the government and people of New Zealand. The visit yielded positive results.

When the delegation arrived at the entrance of the parliament building in Wellington Friday noon, it was hostilely harassed by a New Zealand demonstrator within close distance.

The demonstrator’s behaviour posed a threat to the security and dignity of the delegation, and far exceeded the boundaries of the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

Such an attempt to spoil the atmosphere of Xi’s visit and damage the Sino-New Zealand relationship is doomed to fail. It also runs against the common wish of both Chinese people and New Zealanders to enhance bilateral friendship, he added.

New Zealand has apologised to the Chinese side for the incident.”

It is not the first time attempts have been made to shut NZ protests against China down. The most famous was in 1999, when protesters were blocked by a bus as the Chinese president arrived at an APEC summit in Christchurch.   And it’s not the first time an MP has used their parliamentary access to protest – I’m thinking here about Shane Ardern on his tractor “Myrtle” driving up parliament’s steps.

I get the argument about bad manners, particularly once you have a look at Norman’s rather pathetic “gimme back my flag” on TV.  Chris Trotter has waded into the argument, saying that while Russel Norman exercised his rights, he wasn’t sure he exercised his responsibility, given the importance of New Zealand’s relationship with China.

However, I’m far from convinced that China always needs to take such huge offence at any protest or difference of opinion it comes across in other countries.

I don’t pretend to understand the cultural differences, but there are different views about issues like Tibet and Taiwan – even among the citizens of those countries themselves. And there is a Falun Dafa group in New Zealand who are always protesting.

So when Chinese delegations visit other countries, perhaps they just need to chill a little?

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Filed under: protest, security, trade

It could never happen here…….

Posted by on June 12th, 2010

The International Trade Union Confederation released its annual survey on Trade Union and Human rights this week. The record’s not pretty.  101 unionists were murdered – 48 in Colombia, 16 in Guatemala, 12 in Honduras, 6 in Mexico, 6 in Bangladesh, 4 in Brazil, 3 in the Dominican Republic, 3 in the Philippines. Many unionists were imprisoned and many arrested in Iran, Honduras, Pakistan, South Korea, Turkey and Zimbabwe.

I know some people think it could never happen here – but actually it has. New Zealand has some brutal history when it comes to workers’ fighting for their rights and while we don’t see this kind of violence these days, we still see open hostility and harsh economic action against workers who try to form unions and collectively bargain.

I’m concerned about the widespread repression, intimidation, imprisonment and even murder of trade unionists in our region, including China, the Philippines, Thailand, Burma and India. During, 2009 ten workers were murdered, some 300 were injured, and over 2000 workers lost their jobs in the course of defending their rights.

This is our region.  This is where New Zealand workers compete for jobs, pay and conditions.  It’s up to New Zealand to use its influence to try to bring an end to this brutality.


Our Govt has its head in the sand on copyright issues

Posted by on June 5th, 2010

Sometimes it takes me a while to feel as if I understand an issue. Especially one that involves the digital world.

When I’m trying to get my head around something I try to take it back to a principle. Is it fair? Who to? Is it too complex? Will it work? Is it fostering innovation and creativity? Is it where we want to be heading?

Copyright is one of those issues.

Copyright in 2010, has become a brand, or a code. The prevalence of illegal downloading both in NZ and globally is a very real and important issue. The balancing act between protecting the rights of creators of content and allowing and encouraging access to information and material is a delicate and increasingly tricky issue which is currently exercising the minds of parliaments across the world.

Intellectual property, who owns it, who should have access, how they should have that access and what should be the penalties for infringing the rules around that access are all very live issues being hotly debated.

There’s a bunch of international treaties and agreements currently being negotiated where intellectual property features large. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and more recently the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) are just two. There is intensive lobbying going on, driven largely from the US.

It seems that the big elephant in the room is who’s interests are being served.

I’ve just come across this piece on The Hill which could cast some light on what is really  going on behind the scenes.

Three key US tech industry groups have urged a rethink on the US position on ACTA. The Consumer Electronics Association, TechAmerica and the Computer & Communications Industry Association plan to oppose the current draft of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.

Though the groups favor copyright enforcement, they worry the agreement will not include copyright exemptions that currently benefit some technology companies under American law.

The agreement may lack a “fair use” standard that allows using copyrighted content in limited circumstances. Google, for instance, relies on this exemption to store Web content in its search engine memory.

Wikipedia defines “Fair use” as a doctrine in United States copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders, such as for commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching or scholarship.

The lack of “fair use” could make American tech companies vulnerable to repercussions abroad, these groups say.

“We would expect the administration to be as concerned as we are about the existing trend of foreign countries imposing unjustified civil and criminal liability on U.S. technology companies and their executives,” the groups wrote.

ACTA has drawn widespread criticism as serving corporate interests. So just who are these corporate interests? Who do they serve and why do they have so much influence? And what principles do those interests serve?

And does our government really understand these issues?

In the Commerce Select Committee on Thursday I asked Commerce Minister Simon Power whether the government was considering a wider review of copyright issues in the light of all the controversy around Section 92A. “No” was the response. They just want their re-write of S92A passed.

I think that’s short-sighted. And not serving the interests of NZ creators and our emerging digital industry. As well as the public interest.

Hat tip @Tom_Watson