New Zealand abandons regional free-trade goal

New Zealand abandons regional free-trade goalWellington  - New Zealand announced Thursday that it was freezing its remaining import duties until at least 2015, effectively abandoning an Asia-Pacific regional agreement to abolish them by next year.

The centre-right government elected in November said it would maintain 10-per-cent duties on imports of clothing, shoes and carpets and 5-per-cent tariffs on textiles and a range of other imported products that are also made in New Zealand. These include processed foodstuffs, machinery, steel and plastic products.

The announcement was hailed by labour unions which have long campaigned for the retention of import duties to protect local industries and jobs.

Robert Reid, secretary of the National Distribution Union, which represents workers in the textile, clothing and footwear industries, hailed it as a victory for common sense and "a final nail in the coffin" for ambitious free-trade goals set by the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organization 15 years ago.

Those goals, adopted at an APEC summit in Bogor, Indonesia, in 1994, called on members of developed economies, including the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, to abolish all import duties by 2010.

The move by the grouping, which accounts for 44 per cent of all world trade, was seen as putting pressure on non-members to agree to wide-ranging abolition of barriers to global commerce.

New Zealand has been a world leader in unilaterally reducing its trade restrictions and Commerce Minister Simon Power said most imported goods came into the country duty free.

Trade Minister Tim Groser said New Zealand remained firmly committed to freeing up international commerce through the World Trade Organization and appealed to other nations to resist imposing protectionist barriers as they emerged from the global economic crisis. (dpa)