The Thailand – New Zealand Free Trade Agreement

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 30, Spring 2004
by John Maynard

Matthew tells us in his Gospel that we will be judged on whether we feed the hungry, care for the sick, take in strangers and visit those in prison (Matthew 25, 33-45).

So how do Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) measure up in meeting our obligations as Christians to our brothers and sisters? Do FTAs redress or reinforce the structural causes of poverty and inequality? Is democratic participation encouraged by the process and practice of FTAs?

Policies aimed at increasing trade for corporate profit and power appear to be actually increasing the numbers of hungry and sick people in the world, not reducing them. There are more strangers who need taking in (refugees and economic migrants). And there are many in prison – including workers and labour organisers, and environmental and human rights activists.

An increasing number of New Zealanders are questioning our government’s free trade agenda in general, and in particular the bilateral free trade agreements currently being negotiated, like the Thailand-New Zealand Closer Economic Partnership.

How will the Thai-NZ CEP raise the appallingly low wages of Thais working in the export manufacturing and processing industries – where the legal minimum wage is as low as 77 cents an hour? How will the conditions of work and standard of living of Thais be improved? What will happen to the Kiwis working in the clothing, textile and appliance industries if tariff-free goods come in from Thailand?

NZ’s global dairy company Fonterra pushed for a Free Trade Agreement with Thailand. Any further intensification of dairying in NZ may produce further water pollution and water depletion – already at dangerous and unsustainable levels in the dairying provinces.

Export-led growth is also leading to environmental abuses in Thailand, from unchecked industrial pollution to big energy projects. Protected wild birds were being targeted for culling as the cause of the bird flu – instead of the battery system of chicken farming.

Neither New Zealand nor Thailand has a really open and democratic process for negotiating or concluding trade treaties – it is big business that calls the shots.

Fair World Links invites you to hear at first hand about the problems with this particular FTA – between New Zealand and Thailand. The two governments want to sign a deal up by the middle of next year.

Two Thai visitors will be speaking at three public meetings and a series of other meetings in September. Dr Jakkrit Kuanpoth (associate professor of law at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University) will be speaking about the negative impact of FTAs. Ms Sripai Nonsee will talk of her own experiences and those of her friends in the garment and electronics factories in Thailand.

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