New Zealand First’s opposition to the China FTA is no surprise but it is interesting to reflect on the grounds for it that Winston Peters has laid out:
a) the deal is not good enough. A pretty weak argument when the other option is no deal.
b) the immigration provisions are bad and shouldn’t be part of FTAs anyway (also the CTU’s position). Also not strong arguments, we’re only talking 1800 Chinese and there’s no inherent reason why limited movement of labour shouldn’t be in an FTA.
c) the opposition to the FTA is a protest vote against New Zealand’s â€˜hands off’ export policy. Peters is on stronger ground here. If we didn’t have a neoliberal, inflation-myopic monetary system with a floating currency (we are one of the smallest economies in the world with a free-flaoting currency, it puts us at the mercy of speculators), we could keep the exchange rate lower, which would deliver far greater increases in export earnings than even the China FTA.
Those who say that Peters’ opposition to the FTA would impair his ability to be Foreign Minister because it confuses foreigners know nothing of how diplomacy works in the real world. Other countries find our arrangement unusual but, just like us, they have found it doesn’t really matter that the Foreign Minister is not a part of the Government and doesn’t always vote with the Government in Parliament. And like us, they will just get on with the job of diplomacy, political quirks aside. Countries know that when they deal with New Zealand they can trust us to work in good faith and keep our side of agreements. How the Foreign Minister votes in Parliament doesn’t matter.
Finally, it was good to see Key on Breakfast refusing to use this issue as a club to beat the Government, despite Paul Henry practically begging him to do so. Key even said Peters could still be Foreign Minister in a theoretical National-led Government. The worst Key could say was the ‘optics’ are bad for foreigners (see paragraph above). Not that Key’s position was principled. As he admitted himself, Key just can’t risk getting (more) offside with Peters when he might need to deal with him post-election.
No doubt, Peters has done well here. He has put his critique of our entire export policy to centre-stage, he has avoided criticism from either major party, and his party and himself are in the limelight with a message that will resonate with many voters.