It’s surreal to see people who said that we should have gone to Iraq and that not going cost us a trade deal with the US, now saying that the Reconstruction Team we sent was to get access for our milk exports. The claim’s based on a US Embassy cable but that doesn’t make it gospel. In reality, the Right wanted us to fight in Iraq to get an FTA with the US.
The cables say:
“Senior MOD officials (strictly protect) tell us it was not until Finance Minister Michael Cullen pointed out in a subsequent Cabinet meeting that New Zealand’s absence from Iraq might cost NZ dairy conglomerate Fonterra the lucrative dairy supply contract it enjoyed under the United Nations Oil for Food program, that the prime minister found a face-saving compromise and sent combat engineers in a non-combat role to Basra, where they were embedded with British forces…
…Sending combat engineers to Iraq has enabled the giant New Zealand dairy exporter, Fonterra, to bid on lucrative Iraq-related contracts… I don’t mean to imply that New Zealand has participated in these efforts solely for its own gain.”
Let’s examine the proposition that Labour changed its mind because of some possible threat to Fonterra’s “lucrative” Iraq contracts. They surely must have been worth of money for a government to change its mind, eh?
In fact, Fonterra’s contracts were worth just $50 million a year. That’s less than a percent of Fonterra’s turnover. The cost of sending the Provincial Reconstruction Team would surely have been in the tens of millions. So, the idea that the government went to that cost, and risked lives, merely to enhance Fonterra’s chance of getting some crumby post-war contracts is laughable.
Fonterra’s then CEO Craig Norgate said he didn’t think that Labour’s position on the invasion would have any influence on his company’s role in post-war Iraq.
We sent the PRT to Iraq for the same reasons we sent one to Afghanistan and a medical team to the First Gulf War – to live up to our commitment as a good international citizen to helping societies rebuild after war, not to sell a minuscule amount of milk powder.
The irony here is that it was actually National wanting us to send combat troops to Iraq to enhance our trade prospects. There was John Key’s hysterical rant for example:
“Where is our name? Missing! It is “MIA” just like it was during the war in Iraq—missing. This country will pay for that—members need not worry about that. There will be no US free-trade arrangement with New Zealand. One thing we do not have to worry about is container ships going to America, because none will be leaving this country for America; there will be no free-trade arrangement because of the absolute shambles that the Government has made of that position.”
So, who wanted to risk blood so we could sell more milk?