New Zealand negotiators have been accused of being 'too scared' to bring up human rights with China's communist officials during free trade discussions.
Amnesty International campaigns manager Gary Reese said 300,000 people are being held in China's re-education-through-labour camps and the use of child labour is also on the rise.
He said for these reasons, and many others, New Zealand's negotiators should have raised human rights issues during feasibility studies for the free trade agreement (FTA).
“It was very clear in talking to them that they are actually scared to bring up labour rights in their negotiations with the Chinese negotiators,” he said at a forum in Wellington recently.
Mr Reese continues to question how an FTA with China could benefit Chinese workers.
“The only reference to labour standards [in the FTA] is going to be a nice voluntary agreement where they at best [the New Zealand and Chinese Governments] get together in a year and there's no requirement for them to do anything.”
Minister of Trade Negotiations Phil Goff said New Zealand discusses human rights regularly with Chinese officials.
“We are out-sourcing slave labour and environmental destruction by importing Chinese goods.”
– US journalist and peak oil expert Richard Heinberg
“In these discussions, we continue to press China, for example, to comply with universal human rights standards, and to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” he said.
New Zealand also raises and promotes human rights causes at the United Nations, he said.
“This human rights engagement existed before the FTA negotiations commenced, has continued throughout the negotiations, and will do so after the FTA is concluded. It is an important element of our bilateral relationship.”
The Labour Party, National, ACT and the Progressive Alliance support the FTA with China. A spokesperson for ACT leader Rodney Hide said the FTA would be a way to improve human rights in China, by maintaining an open dialogue.
New Zealand Manufacturers Fearful
The 50,000-member Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) told the Government in 2004 that the Council of Trade Unions should be party to FTA negotiations.
EPMU national secretary Andrew Little said in a release that the union wanted to promote and protect New Zealand's labour standards.
EPMU also wanted tariffs kept in place for as long as possible during the transition to an FTA, especially in research and development and high-tech manufacturing.
Mr Little said that China was rapidly transforming itself into a high-quality manufacturing country on a scale that New Zealanders could scarcely imagine.
“China is going to effect us dramatically, with or without a free trade agreement,” he said.
“It's naïve to think that we can close the borders and hide from it – our members are already feeling the effects of the rise in Chinese manufacturing.”
More than 1000 workers in New Zealand factories will have lost their jobs by the end of this year.
Many manufacturers have been forced out of business by the high Kiwi dollar and cheaper products from Asia. Others are relocating to Asia for lower labour costs.
According to a survey conducted last year by business consultants Grant Thornton, 27 percent of New Zealand's medium-sized businesses see China as their biggest international threat.
Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons also warned that the FTA could spell the end of New Zealand's manufacturing industries.
She said the FTA would allow China to flood New Zealand with imports at prices that our manufacturers could never match.
“We shouldn't be tied with a country that has, in fact, thousands in labour camps, slave labour, and human rights abuses,” she said.
NZ Ignores WTO for Deal with China
When China joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in November 2001, countries were given the opportunity to discriminate against it as a non-market economy.
Countries could then choose to apply anti-dumping and safe guarding laws against China if Chinese products flooded their economies.
Association for Asian Research executive director Erping Zhang said China still implements the “Five Year Plan” modelled after the former USSR's economic plan, which prohibits the mechanisms of a market economy.
As a prerequisite to entering FTA discussions, however, China has asked both New Zealand and Australia to recognise it as a market economy.
Mr Zhang said a limited sector of China's economy is open to market, including food, clothing, and other light industry, but as a planned economy the communist party controls all the major sectors such as energy, telecommunication, banking, and transportation.
“Further, the Chinese market is heavily regulated by the Communist Party instead of being influenced by fair competition, supply, and demand,” he said.
Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and Chile also regard China as a market economy.
China has also asked New Zealand to disregard safeguards put in place by the WTO [sections 15 and 16 of its accession protocol to the WTO and paragraph 242 of the WTO Working Party Report on China's Accession].
New Zealand will not have the ability to apply these WTO remedies and safeguards in the event of market disruption by Chinese products.
China's Environmental Crisis
US peak oil expert Richard Heinberg said as China's industry continues to develop its contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is also steadily increasing.
“China is ruining their environment to produce cheap goods for export.”
“We are out-sourcing slave labour and environmental destruction by importing Chinese goods,” Mr Heinberg said at a forum 'Life After Oil' in Auckland last week.
300,000 in China's Labour Camps
China has used re-education through labour as a form of detention since 1957. Amnesty International estimates that 300,000 people are currently held in re-education-through-labour camps across China.
The US State Department estimates that more than 50 percent of all people held in China's labour camps are Falun Gong practitioners.
The World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong said China uses labour camps to encourage and attract foreign investment.
“The  No.56 document from the State Administration of Taxation under China's Ministry of Finance clearly indicates that if the property and product rights of a company are solely owned by a prison or forced labour camp system, the company is exempt from corporate income tax and the land inquisition levy,” they said in a report.
The Chinese Communist Party has openly declared Falun Gong practitioners in China to be “class enemies”. A special branch of the police, the 610 Office, is employed to aid the state in its arrest, detainment and persecution of Falun Gong.
Practitioners are arrested, beaten, tortured and murdered for their organs.
China legalised organ harvesting from prisoners in 1984. In March last year a veteran military doctor in China revealed that Falun Gong practitioners were being systematically killed for their organs.
He was aware of 36 concentration camps in China where practitioners were being held. The largest camp, in Jilin province, held over 120,000 Falun Gong practitioners.
Previous to his disclosure “Annie”, revealed her former husband had removed the corneas of more than 2000 Falun Gong practitioners in one of these camps. Some practitioners were conscious during the operation.
Former Canadian Secretary of State for Asia Pacific David Kilgour and international human rights lawyer David Matas have compiled a growing body of evidence and published a comprehensive and internationally recognised report on China's organ harvest – Bloody Harvest.
“This country [NZ] is now in the final stages of a free trade deal with a country that shows no respect for human rights,” Mr Kilgour said.
Living Standards Dangerous
China Labor Watch investigated working conditions in eight Chinese factories last year, and found that workers were subjected to dangerous work and living conditions, and paid very little.
At some factories, workers shifts were 10 to 14 hours a day. They were often refused rest time, even though it is a legal requirement. Some did not have one day off a week or time off during public holidays.
New Zealand FTA Negotiators
New Zealand's negotiating team is led by Dr David Walker (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade) and includes representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Economic Development, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, The Treasury, the New Zealand Customs Service, Ministry of Education, Department of Labour and the Ministry for the Environment.