Public split over China trade deal

By Paula Oliver

New Zealanders are divided over whether the Government should be signing a free trade deal with China, a new Herald-DigiPoll survey reveals.

Prime Minister Helen Clark flies out tonight on an overseas trip which will include the signing of the historic agreement in Beijing on April 7, but it appears many New Zealanders are yet to be convinced it is a good move.

Asked if they supported New Zealand signing a free trade agreement with China, 44.7 per cent of those questioned in the DigiPoll survey said they did. Just about a third - 32.4 per cent - said no, while 22.9 per cent said they did not know.

While the Government will be pleased that more people agree with the deal than disagree, it is clear there is still a large degree of uncertainty in voters' minds about the issue.

That uncertainty is likely linked to the fact that details of the agreement are being kept secret until it is signed.

Prime Minister Helen Clark yesterday refused to divulge details but said the deal's benefits would be felt over time as its measures were phased in.

When fully implemented, the deal would likely benefit New Zealand by around $180 million to $280 million a year, she said.

"That's pretty substantial," the Prime Minister told the Herald, although she would not say how many years it would take to reach that point.

Negotiations have taken place over the past three years and she said the deal would include the phasing out over time of tariffs on New Zealand's agricultural exports to China.

The primary sector is likely to be a winner from the agreement, while on the flipside it appears some Chinese workers - such as chefs and traditional therapists like acupuncturists - will be able to work in New Zealand.

In response to the Herald poll, Helen Clark said she thought most New Zealanders were very aware that the country needed to export profitably.

"We're a pretty open economy but we trade into many markets which are not," she said.

"So if we can secure a better deal for our farmers and other exporters into other markets, I think people will say 'well, that's a good thing'."

The deal has widespread political support in New Zealand, with only the Greens so far saying they will not vote for it. New Zealand First has reserved its position but other parties including National will back the agreement.

The signing of the deal in the Grand Hall of the People in Beijing will mark the first time the Chinese Government has reached a free trade agreement with a developed country.

Helen Clark will meet Premier Wen Jiabao while visiting China, which is our third largest trading partner.

She has said she would raise human rights issues while in the country in the wake of international condemnation of a Chinese crackdown on unrest in Tibet.

A delegation of 150 representatives from New Zealand businesses will accompany Trade Minister Phil Goff to China for the signing, while Helen Clark will arrive there from Europe on her way back from a service at Windsor Castle for Sir Edmund Hillary, and a Nato summit in Romania.

She said yesterday that local businesses had to make their own efforts to innovate so that they could "move up the value chain", but free trade deals could help eliminate the discrimination their goods faced in other markets.

"Frankly, if we're open to other markets and they're not so open to us, that's a bad situation," she said.

"So we need to even up the ledger a bit."


- NZ Herald

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