It’s not often you find New Zealanders who give every single breath they have to the left and do it with resounding and even global success. Such a person was Mike Moore.
The media are calling him a working class hero. I’d like every single Labour Member of Parliament to grow up in a state house with not much like he did, and to do real hard working class work like a freezing works, and be a life union member, like he did. But I’m not going to dwell on that. I’m not going to go over the reasons he got so many national and international awards either.
Instead I want to concentrate on how he brought the most people in the world out of poverty – sure not single-handedly – but arguably he was our most effective player on the world stage since Fraser.
To give just a snippet into how he helped propel New Zealand beyond its agricultural mindset into doing something bold on the global stage, he was in charge of getting Auckland’s waterfront ready to host the first Americas Cup after we won it the first time. At the time, Auckland’s waterfront was a dreary industrial hole. It’s the way it is now because Mike Moore put through the Americas Cup Enabling Legislation that pushed through the planning framework, and got the money through Cabinet to host it. If you stroll from Beaumont Street to the end of Quay Street now, you can see the result of that seed being reborn: a fully rebuilt waterfront.
Mike Moore dying 48 hours after the United Kingdom left the European Union is pretty well perfect timing. We’ve just gone through the high point of globalization after 70 years of trying to form systems that enable us to engage through means other than global war.
Mike Moore strived to ensure that the weak and small countries like ourselves the best chance possible to have a common set of rules and enforcements that everyone large and small would be ruled by. He was a very strong part of this being successfully formed, after decades of diplomatic failure.A world without GATT and the WTO would probably have consigned New Zealand to near total trade reliance on Australia both in itself and to gain secondary market access to other countries. We as New Zealand as a whole are the stronger for Mike Moore’s work.
We were supposed to get an international trade organisation across the world as the United nations got going. That’s how important it was. It was supposed to have been a key pillar of post-WW2 economic reconstruction and development alongside the IMF and the World Bank. Such were the commercial forces within states determined to retain their trade superiority, that didn’t happen for decades. Mike Moore used his every professional breath from becoming Minister to form and strengthen that trade framework.
It took until the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade for New Zealand to see the promise that the entire world would fully and finally rid itself of the state subsidies that had held our agricultural economy back from global success. Following the completion of the critical Uruguay Round with Mike Moore leading the charge for New Zealand and which took 8 years of multilateral trade negotiations, the World Trade Organisation began operations on January 1 1995. Mike Moore took the Chair role on from 1999.
The WTO has six key objectives:
(1) to set and enforce rules for international trade,
(2) to provide a forum for negotiating and monitoring further trade liberalization,
(3) to resolve trade disputes,
(4) to increase the transparency of decision-making processes,
(5) to cooperate with other major international economic institutions involved in global economic management, and
(6) to help developing countries benefit fully from the global trading system.
Imagine a world where that didn’t exist. We’ve done really well for 30 years off it. Perhaps it’s coming again.
There’s no doubt Donald Trump has forced the WTO to stop functioning is precisely so he can break the rule-based trade global order that Mike Moore worked so tirelessly and effectively for. Hard-won frameworks can be undone. Trump and the many tyrant nationalists he has spawned want to smash rules and in doing so prepare U.S. companies to smash the weak.
Mike wrote about this intense need to enable small countries such as ourselves to be given a basic platform of fairness, so that the strong did not continue to dominate the weak by simple mercantile bullying. Perhaps now in 2020 it’s hard to remember how protected we were, how intensely vulnerable to British access for our goods, how scary it was when Britain joined the European Common Market and cut us adrift. We were adrift.
He wrote about the triumphs and tragedies of this need to form rules in which the rich and powerful would be held with the same playbook as the small in his book “A World Without Walls: Freedom, Development, Free Trade” (Cambridge, 2003). In it he laid out the benefits of trade untrammeled by global subsidy – higher incomes, lower poverty, better environment, improved governance, and more.
After his time as Chair of the World Trade Organisation, he also edited “Doha and Beyond: The Future of the Multilateral trading System”, which brought together a range of experts in the field and in the context of 2020 is well worth a read, because they anticipate so many of the issues we face right now.
Even in its current state, the WTO is a far more forceful and directive body than anything that’s been formed after Kyoto or the Paris summit on climate change. Gatt and the WTO are the multilateral benchmarks that have enabled the successful CPTPP and the upcoming RCEP (that’s the one with China in it).
It needs a whole fresh generation of leaders who will anticipate such problems as he did in “Saving Globalisation” (2009), and also be supreme operators that forge new internationalist agreements that bind all and that work for the good of all.
It was a piece of extraordinary luck that we had Mike Moore as Ambassador to the United States while President Obama was in power. As a trade expert, he could see no specific need to press an NZ-US bilateral trade deal when the bigger CPTPP lay in store. Pity that the U.S. withdrew from TPP under Trump. If the U.S. had stayed in, there would have been the potential for the U.S. to organize massive trade force against China in their trade dispute.
But he kept going at the post until he had a stroke in 2014. “I’m not a lifestyle guy – if you learn I’m playing golf, shoot me in the back of the head,” he retorted gruffly to one journalist. He needed no sinecure.
With the death of Moore goes a global leader of a generation who believed to his being in global connections and movements that could unite the entire world for good. Sure, that ideal has a high modernist impulse straight out of the post 1930s socialist international: that we are defined best by cooperating than by our nation-states.
We are on the other side of those giddy heights. Big regional blocs are about the best we can do.
Mike Moore gave it everything and left New Zealand and the world a far better place for it.