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July 11, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Politics With Paul – Key to India

Espiner’s interview on Q+A with India’s Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, when Espiner broached the idea of whether provisions surrounding India’s child labour issues should be included in any Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between New Zealand and India.

Before hanging up, Sharma comm-ented to someone in his Delhi office concerning Espiner: “He’s a very rude fellow.”

There are few who would hold the opinion that the topic should not have been raised though. Surely, human rights promotion should be at the forefront of all NZ’s international relations.

Why then, has there been such a lack of focus on those practises in India that would seem abhorrent if allowed to occur in our own country, especially from Labour and the Greens?

To be sure, Greens co-leader Dr. Norman raised the issue of child labour in general, commenting that “trade deals give new, special rights to multi-national companies so they can sue us, but don’t give rights to kids who are stuck in a factory somewhere.” Besides this, the Greens have been conspicuously quiet on the deal.

Labour’s only interjection came from Clare Curran, who raised concerns over “labour outsourcing,” but was quickly reprimanded by the Party machine. Phil Goff is a strong supporter of an FTA with India.

The reasoning is simple. As Trade Minister Tim Grosser has pointed out, we can achieve much more by engaging cooperatively with these countries while pursuing singular issues through other avenues such as through International Labour Organisation conventions.

India already has laws forbidding child labour, and although the problem is persistent, as with the country’s poverty, these issues are gradually being tackle—mammoth undertakings in a country with India’s population.

The proposed FTA has significant benefits for NZ, with Key the right leader to secure the deal. Having spent much of his professional life in the banking world, he is well placed to connect and negotiate with India’s billionaires, as well as the Indian Government, working to secure deals that will benefit particularly NZ agriculture for years to come.

Since signing an FTA with China, for example, dairy exports from NZ have increased fourfold, and certainly we can expect the same sort of figures in a deal with India.

Moreover, the potential benefits from an agreement between the two countries in other industries are exciting to say the least. We’re already seeing the benefits to tourism from Bollywood filming in NZ, with more than 30,000 Indians visiting NZ since 2004, and this could grow exponentially with the deal.
Moreover, to Key’s credit, he didn’t completely shut his eyes to India’s less desirable attributes. He was faced with India’s crippling poverty, albeit through the windows of his motorcade, and he acknowledged the issues of terrorism and raised nuclear disarmament with Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Singh.
However, in the face of these recognitions, some of the key discussions from the visit should be somewhat disconcerting to New Zealanders.
An agreement on closer defence ties was one of the big surprises from the visit, including suggestions from Key that NZ could send a frigate to help quell piracy in India’s oceans.

But, in complete contrast to NZ, India is a country that is armed with nuclear weapons, and is one of few nations not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Furthermore, tightening defence ties in the face of India’s ongoing conflict with Pakistan should surely be raising eyebrows here at home.
But, TV3’s Patrick Gower puts it like this: “We have to nail these (FTA) deals. You have to swallow a couple of dead rats on the way. India’s nuclear arsenal is one. Child labour is another. We’ve done this before with China so it shouldn’t taste so bad.”

What we need to ask ourselves is whether an FTA is worth undermining independence in international relations. We stood fast under Lange under US pressure to have the nuclear-powered USS Buchanan visit NZ shores in 1985. Surely, it would make sense to apply similarly staunch objections in our dealings with the more recent nuclear-mad countries of the world?

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