What do Free Trade agreements REALLY mean for New Zealanders?

Professor Jane Kelsey, School of Law, University of Auckland

July 30th 2008

Venue: The Horse and Trap, Mt Eden, Auckland

Listening to both major political parties, most media commentators and big business, New Zealanders would think that free trade agreements hold the key to our economic future. Few people – including the above – understand enough about them to assess their implications. Signing them is more an act of faith. And it has very little to do with ‘trade’ as we used to understand it. New generation agreements, like those signed with China and under negotiation with the US, basically trade-off future gains for Fonterra and a handful of other businesses for guarantees that foreign corporations and investors can plunder New Zealand’s remaining assets and resources without restraint. This is perplexing, when the same government has finally recognised that some strategic assets need to remain in local hands. On a larger scale, the frenzy to sign new agreements comes at a time when food shortages, climate change, peak oil and contagious finance-market collapses make the global free market model seem unsustainable.

Why is there so little discussion of these agreements in New Zealand? Does the China agreement mean there is now little point in opposing them? What would an agreement with the US add? How do we extricate ourselves from this straitjacket when we decide that these agreements aren’t really good for New Zealand after all? Jane Kelsey is one of New Zealand’s best-known critical commentators on issues of globalisation, structural adjustment and decolonisation. As an activist academic, she combines teaching and research with public education about the negative implications of ‘free trade’ agreements, especially on trade in services.

Jane is an active member of a number of international coalitions of academics, trade unionists, NGOs and social movements working for social justice. Jane is the author of many books and articles on the neoliberal restructuring of New Zealand since 1984, including the best-selling ‘The New Zealand Experiment. A World Model for Structural Adjustment?’. Her latest book on globalisation, ‘Serving Whose Interests? The Political Economy of Trade in Services Agreements’, was published by Routledge in June 2008.

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