History of the Maori of Aotearoa - New Zealand|
Date: Fri, 15 Aug 97 16:17:46 CDT
From: "S.I.S.I.S." <SISIS@envirolink.org>
Subject: APEC, Free Trade, and 'Economic Sovereignty'
APEC, Free Trade, and "Economic Sovereignty"
By Aziz Choudry,
14 November 1996
[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following is a paper presented by Aziz Choudry in
November, 1996, at a conference in Davao, Philippines, prior to the Manila
People's Forum on APEC.]
Greetings from structurally adjusted Aotearoa/New Zealand.
APEC, WTO, GATT, NAFTA, PECC, ABAC, EU, FDI, ADB, IMF, SOMs,
SAPs, TNCs; we live in a world so thickly populated by acronyms,
abbreviations, Orwellian doublespeak, obscure jargon, and dictated to by a
set of arcane economic truths (which only the "experts" claim to be qualified
enough to understand) that it's getting harder and harder to see how the
planet and its peoples fit in to the picture.
Native American poet and activist John Trudell calls the New World Order
"an Old World Lie". The neoliberal market ideology which dominates APEC
is based on the same kind of twisted anti-human logic and value system
which has legitimised colonialism over the centuries. In Aotearoa/New
Zealand, the neoliberalism of APEC, GATT/WTO, and the radical domestic
market reforms that have made the country one of the most deregulated
economies in the world must be seen in the context of the ongoing
colonisation of indigenous Maori lands, lives, resources and futures by the
Throughout, and beyond the Asia-Pacific region, many others have pointed
out the parallels between the experiences of their peoples under colonial rule
and those faced in the 1990s as a result of an insane, profit-driven top-down
model of development imposed in the interests of a tiny minority of the
world's population. And I do not think that it is coincidental that the USA,
New Zealand and Canada, the countries which are leading the charge within
APEC for further, faster, more comprehensive liberalisation are ones which
continue to deny indigenous peoples in those territories rights to
decolonisation and self-determination, at the same time as disguising this
with mythical notions that coloniser governments in these countries are
inherently humanitarian, democratic and forward-thinking. As Cree lawyer
Sharon Venne says of NAFTA: "It is the same colonisation game - just with a
NGOs, human rights, environmental and aid and development organisations
in these countries concerned about the global effects of structural adjustment
and an unjust economic order need look no further than their own backyard to
see the impact and outcomes of the same philosophy at work. The
commodification of peoples, knowledge, rights, and nature itself which
underpins the APEC and WTO agendas, as well as the radical market
policies of the "New Zealand experiment" can be sourced in the same
unbalanced, short-sighted, arrogant and greed-driven worldview which
characterises the coloniser's mindset.
Maori educationalist Graham Smith points out that "[H]istorically the same
processes of commodification were used by Pakeha [European settlers] to
access Maori land. This was achieved through the individualisation of Maori
land titles i.e. to commodify or 'package up' what were collective or group
held titles into individual holdings in order to facilitate their sale to
under Pakeha rules and customs."
In Aotearoa/New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi, signed between Maori and
Crown representatives in 1840 affirmed Maori tino rangatiratanga - their
sovereign right of self-determination - and allowed Pakeha (European)
settlers to govern their own. Sovereignty was never ceded to the British
Crown. Instead, as Simon Upton, former Minister for the Environment
conceded: "[W]hatever legitimacy the Crown failed to derive from the treaty,
it acquired through the effective and durable assertion of power. To not put
too fine a point on it...the British Crown and subsequently the New Zealand
Parliament, effected a revolutionary seizure of power." (The Press,
Christchurch, 1/5/1995) He adds: "revolution rests upon what is done, not
what is legal, or necessarily moral or just."
Successive New Zealand governments still refuse to honour the Treaty, but
are far less reticent about making far-reaching international commitments
without consulting Maori or non-Maori, in fora such as the GATT and APEC.
With fundamentalist zeal, they ascribe enormous significance to OECD
reports, market/economic indicators like Standard and Poors credit ratings,
fiscal restraint measures and an ideology which excludes all social, cultural,
and environmental considerations in favour of market mantras.
So the word "sovereignty" is one that should be used with a great deal of
caution. Can a society based on the dispossession and systematic
oppression of indigenous people, on a "revolutionary seizure of power", on
the unrecognised, undervalued and often unrewarded labour of women, and
the blood, sweat and tears of workers ever truly claim to be "sovereign"?
Eager to attract foreign investment and be seen internationally as a driving
force in global economic integration, the New Zealand Government is
guaranteeing open access to lands and resources that they themselves have
no right to. The speed at which the government has deregulated the
economy has outstripped the pace demanded by GATT and APEC. Maori
lawyer Moana Jackson has described the Government as a "neo-colonial
harlot", prostituting itself for the highest investment price.
assets with which it prostitutes itself belong to Maori."
Between 1988 and 1993, Aotearoa/New Zealand enjoyed the dubious
distinction of leading the world in the sale of state-owned assets, often at
bargain basement prices, to overseas investors, most of which are well-known
transnationals. Some NZ $14 billion - or 3.6% of the annual GDP was
sold off like this. The Economist magazine describes the neoliberal economic
reforms as "out-Thatchering Mrs Thatcher". Other commentators have
referred to this process as "revolutionary", or indeed, "Chile without the
Upton and many other New Zealand politicians see no double standard in
legitimising a colonial state based on revolution while attacking Maori who
assert their right to self-determination and demand control over their
resources and lands. It's hardly surprising then that they have no problem
with pushing on with a relentless programme of selling off lands, resources
and futures to transnational corporations for whom Aotearoa/New Zealand
has become an unrestricted investment playground, and committing future
generations of New Zealanders to this agenda while dressing this up as
somehow guaranteeing greater political independence and enhancing
As assets, political and economic power were transferred from the
Government to the private sector, especially to the transnationals, many non-
Maori New Zealanders started to get a taste of the revamped laissez faire
economics which was implemented without any democratic mandate from
1984 onwards. Concerns about foreign investment and the sale of so many
assets have led many to talk about the loss of "economic sovereignty". The
same kinds of policies which have long been used to subjugate indigenous
peoples and the peoples of the South are now being imposed on increasing
numbers of non-indigenous peoples in the so-called "First World". As
decision-making powers are abdicated to international bodies and fora which
have no accountability to ordinary citizens, and as people's destinies, living
standards and environments are steadily remoulded to suit the interests and
needs of transnational investors, a genuine sense of disempowerment and
disenfranchisement is being felt.
Ordinary people, Maori and non-Maori alike, are supposed to take solace in
the fact that all of this has been done to make us "attractive to foreign
investment". There is nothing attractive about the end results. Stripped of
almost all subsidies and import tariffs, and forced to compete in a global
market dominated by immensely more powerful actors on a far from level
playing field, whole sectors of New Zealand industries were decimated, with
thousands of jobs lost. The voice of New Zealand big business, the
Business Roundtable, and the neoliberal ideologues within Treasury were
raised up as being the true visionaries of society. Tax cuts for the rich
accompanied by social welfare cuts for the poor. The public sector was
attacked with great gusto and remodelled along market principles. The
country's financial, media, transport, and communications infrastructure is
largely in private/transnational hands.
By 1996, an estimated 1 in 5 New Zealanders lived below the poverty line.
This figure was much higher for Maori and Pacific Island families. A 1995
Joseph Rowntree Foundation study found that among 18 comparable
countries, between 1979 and 1995, Aotearoa/New Zealand had the fastest
growing income disparity. The seemingly never-ending takeovers by
transnationals did nothing to improve New Zealand's overseas debt problem.
In 1984, total private and public foreign debt stood at $16 billion. In
is $74 billion - despite a decade of public asset sales and takeovers. Such
cold realities are carefully glossed over in all of the hype surrounding free
trade, but Maori Treaty activist and lawyer Annette Sykes attributes them to
what she calls "the socially abhorrent principles of the structural adjustment
programme" which has been imposed on all of us for over a decade. So
much for the promises made about the "colossal", and "remarkable" benefits
for us of the Uruguay Round and APEC that have been made in the past few
years. We are repeatedly told to "leave it to the market to decide", and
the benefits of GATT will trickle down to us all. In reality, trade and
investment liberalisation regimes like those promoted within APEC open the
way for the sucking up of lands, lives and resources by corporations which
cynically promote a destructive model of development which knows no limits
in its lust for profit.
According to Prime Minister Jim Bolger: "There is no downside to opening up
world trade. All you have to do is overcome political barriers, in other
attitudinal barriers" These are the kind of glib assurances which we have
become accustomed to hearing in relation to APEC. But increasingly, the
hype and talking up of the supposed benefits of liberalisation have taken on
an air of desperation, as many other economies continue to resist pressures
to axe subsidies, tariffs and other forms of protection which the government
proudly boasts of having removed.
Because of the history of colonisation in Aotearoa, it is somewhat
talk of genuine economic sovereignty since Maori were deprived of their
control over their resources by the settlers in 1840. As a British colony,
Zealand has always been controlled by external economic powers. So I have
some problems with the use of the words "economic sovereignty". It would
seem I'm not the only one. Former Prime Minister and Labour Trade Minister
Mike Moore said of GATT in July: "Look, this has actually given us our
economic sovereignty. Before, every couple of years, Europe would decide
what was going to happen, and we'd be sitting outside the door, hoping the
French and the Irish wouldn't hammer us and that someone would put in a
good word. We can now take part in those trade decisions as a sovereign
nation." (Sunday Star-Times, 7 July 1996). According to Mr Moore, economic
sovereignty - indeed, sovereignty itself - can be reduced down to the
possibility that more New Zealand exports may be able to gain access to
international markets. A possibility which is hardly borne out by the
duplicitous track record of powerful governments such as the USA in failing to
adhere to the same overarching rules of global trade which it demands that
every other country follows.
Many New Zealand politicians and business leaders openly advocate a
national identity based on maintaining a regime on overseas investment best
described as an open door policy, with no scrutiny or controls. In
APEC and GATT/WTO commitments, we are supposed to be proud to be
"ahead of the game". This kind of sovereignty has little to do with people
whom it is vested, with political and democratic rights. With the fundamental
and inalienable right of all peoples to self-determination. It has much
do with selling "government of the transnationals, by the transnationals, for
the transnationals" to the general public. This appears to be the '90s
definition of sovereignty which we are being asked to accept. It is this
"sovereignty" that APEC, along with its partners in crime, the Bretton Woods
toxic trio wants to lock us into forever. The term "free trade" is itself
euphemism for freedom from governmental restrictions for transnational
According to some New Zealand apologists for free trade, GATT has given
consumers more "sovereignty". So apparently, sovereignty can also be
reduced down to the range of choices at the shopping mall - never mind the
high costs borne by local workers who are forced into unemployment as a
result of the erosion of their jobs as the effects of cheaper imports began to
bite deep. Never mind the fact that the products that are replacing local
ones on the shelves at the shops may well be produced by workers forced to
work in inhuman conditions in the free trade zones set up for the
transnational robber barons. Without peoples' sovereignty, without
constitutional arrangements which are based on solid and just foundations,
without support for peoples' full economic political cultural and social
without participatory democracy, our line of defence against the onslaught of
transnational capital will be very flimsy. The concept of sovereignty, both
within Aotearoa and throughout the APEC region is one that needs careful
examination and serious debate.
You cannot rebuild a house which has rotten foundations. The worldview
that dominates the APEC process is fundamentally corrupt. APEC's very
nature is one which rests on a narrow economic reductionist outlook. Firstly,
economics is defined so as to exclude vast areas of human activity - those
which do not contribute to GNP growth and all the other supposed "vital
signs" of a "healthy" economy. And within that, peoples, natural resources,
lands, even the air that we breathe are redefined within this narrow
as tradeable commodities. In this brave new world, "economics" and trade
issues are presented in such a way as to seem as alien and
incomprehensible as possible to ordinary citizens.
As Vandana Shiva points out, all areas have become "trade-related".
Nothing is off-limits. You can put the term "trade-related" in front of
and draw the "areas of domestic decision making into the global arena." and
create "areas where the 'darker', more visible, facets of free trade are
tranformed into reasons for its justification and expansion" New Zealand
journalist Bruce Ansley sums up the "brave new world" charted by APEC: "[I]n
Apec language (as singular as Esperanto) nations become "economies"
without, apparently, irritating social philosophies. These economies aren't
inhabited by people but by "human resources". They don't have elected
representatives; doubtless to his gratification, Jim Bolger becomes an
"economic leader". It is cold and grey and mechanical, and scary as hell."
(NZ Listener, 3/8/1996)
I do not believe that the answers to concerns about people-centred
development, social justice and the environment can be developed within the
framework which has already been largely mapped out by the main actors
within APEC. These actors have been careful to exclude the rest of us from
their deliberations and adoption of trade and investment measures. They
have ignored the "non-economic" effects wrought by trade and investment
liberalisation. Overtures towards "consulting" at least some NGOs and other
actors in civil society will come from some bodies within APEC. These
overtures should be treated with extreme caution. Grassroots peoples'
struggles for democratic rights, genuine participatory democracy, and sane,
just and sustainable models of development have their own dynamic and
truths quite apart from the message that we are all being told in our
respective countries to a greater or lesser degree that "there is no
alternative" to trade and investment liberalisation.
We do not need APEC or the WTO to validate us by inviting us to their party.
Jumping on board the APEC train and convincing ourselves that we can
somehow change its course is delusory. It is likely to lead to co-option and
division within peoples' movements and organisations.
We need to work locally, nationally, and internationally to resist and
the realities of corporate colonialism in this rapidly globalising world.
are chinks in the sometimes seemingly impenetrable armour of the
transnationals and their agenda. Like the myths of colonisation, the
emperor's new clothes of the free market need to be exposed to the light of
day. They are actually so fragile that their exponents cannot afford the
exposure. That is why, in many nations around the world, those who dare to
challenge the neoliberal model of development are vilified, treated like
heretics, or even criminalised Open debate and even the mere suggestion
that alternative models of economic and social development exist will not be
tolerated. So it is vital to ensure that debate and action does occur,
it reaches outside of conferences such as this out into the wider community.
In Aotearoa, Maori resistance to the latest wave of colonisation in the
free trade, and their insistent demands for self-determination serve as a
warning that a mere reversion to the kind of New Zealand "state sovereignty"
based on invasion, injustice and dispossession is not a sustainable or just
alternative to the free market agenda. Finding alternatives to and liberation
from corporate rule and inhuman market models of development are to me
inextricably bound together with the issue of support for indigenous
sovereignty and a rebuilding of a worldview which is not underpinned by
corporate greed. Unlike the free market model of development, which claims
to be applicable to any sector, country or region and a panacea for all kinds
of problems, there are many different alternative models to be explored in
As the experience of many countries which were supposedly freed from
colonial rule after long years of struggle shows, flag independence is not
enough. The Bretton Woods institutions and the insatiable demands of big
business have become the new colonial overlords. Next month's WTO
Ministerial Meeting will seek to further prise open the world's economies - especially
the weaker ones - to the demands of transnational capital.
Without economic independence, what kind of independence can a country
truly enjoy? If social, political, environmental, cultural and economic
outcomes are decided by those acting in the interests of transnational
business and international lending institutions, then have not societies and
peoples merely become adjuncts to the corporate mission statement and
It is not enough to reject the free market vision as advocated by APEC and
WTO and to seek to nostalgically return to a golden age of a strong nation-state.
In much of the talk about economic sovereignty, whether it be at
government, or global level, all-too frequently the work of women, the
exploitation of workers, lack of government accountability, and the enormous
contributions made by the innovations of indigenous peoples and peoples of
the South are studiously overlooked. A true peoples' sovereignty cannot be
based on the denial of sovereign rights of others.
The issue of trade and investment liberalisation will not go away. The
environmental, cultural and political devastation which market-driven policies
and international trade structures and processes causes will not go away.
And opposition to free trade will not go away. At the end of the day, we
should ask ourselves who we want to determine our futures and those of our
children? The CEOs of transnational corporations? A set of global rules
about trade and investment which reads like a corporate wish list backed up
by the World Trade Organisation? Or our own communities?
Aziz Choudry - 14 November 1996
S.I.S.I.S. Settlers In Support of Indigenous Sovereignty
P.O. Box 8673, Victoria, "B.C." "Canada" V8X 3S2
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