Friday, April 12, 2024

EU trade deal finally over the line

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Even ‘short-changed’ dairy hails passage of FTA that has been 10 years in the making.
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A 10-year campaign for a trade deal with the European Union has finally crossed the finishing line with the passing of enabling legislation in Parliament.

Five of Parliament’s six parties supported the third reading of the European Union Free Trade Agreement Legislation Amendment Bill, with little opposition to the coalition government’s decision to push it through quickly.  

Outside Parliament, there was even support from the dairy industry, despite its earlier objections that it had been short-changed.

The deal is expected to bring tariff savings estimated to be worth $100 million to exporters.

By pushing the legislation through quickly, the new law will allow the kiwifruit and onion sectors to get their products to market under the new rules in a way that fits their seasonal production schedules.  

Debating the third reading of the bill, former Green leader James Shaw commended this process, saying this was what urgency was designed for, in contrast to most things that the new government had done since it was elected.  

He went on to suggest the free trade agreement legislation could have been even quicker, and other aspects of the new government’s agenda had been given preference.  

The law was also supported by Labour, the ACT Party and New Zealand First.  Only the Māori Party opposed it, with Te Tai Tonga MP Takuta Ferris saying it overrode Māori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi.  

Ferris also argued clauses protecting Māori were unenforceable, but former minister David Parker said the protections break new ground for Māori.

And he praised the agreement for another reason – the way it was drafted would make it very had to roll back established advantages at a later date.  

The bill passed its third reading with 117 votes to six.  

It was welcomed by Dairy Companies of New Zealand (DCANZ) despite it arguing earlier that the dairy industry got an inferior deal, in contrast with businesses such as kiwifruit and wine.

DCANZ was thwarted in its hope that complex intellectual property certification processes contained in the agreement could have been simplified to save producers time and money.  

“We support fast-tracking, we are disappointed that those  [IP] changes weren’t made,” DCANZ  executive director Kimberly Crewther said.

“We believe that they could be made without any compromise around the timing, because we are not asking for a new approach to be developed, we just asking for the government to stick with the current New Zealand approach.”

DCANZ was hoping for a last ditch amendment in Parliament, but it did not happen.  

Earlier, Trade Minister Todd McClay gave Parliament a rundown of the advantages of a law change he boasted had taken just seven weeks to get passed.

“The kiwifruit industry will see $43m worth of tariff savings this year, and we estimate 35,000 tonnes of onions will be exported to the EU after May 1st,  saving our onion exporters $3m per season.

“From day one, duties will be removed from 91% of goods exported and a wide range of sectors will see these immediate benefits.

“As a result of this agreement, New Zealand will remove all tariffs on imports originating from the EU … including footwear, apparel, cosmetics, furniture, chocolate, kitchen appliances, machinery, motor homes, forklifts and some agricultural goods.”

He said benefits would spread to the services sector, too.

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