Trade with Burma - don't cry over spilt milk
Today I will be attending the rally in support of the Burmese pro-democracy movement, organised by the Solidarity Union, and supported by the CTU and Amnesty International.
We need to call for the New Zealand Government to apply more pressure on the autocratic murderous regime currently running the country they have renamed Myanmar. We also need to question our Government as to why they are negotiating a free trade agreement with a group of countries that includes Burma.
In 1990 the Burmese people overwhelmingly voted to oust the military in favour of the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, but the military refused to give up power.
In 1996 the National League for Democracy called on the international community for trade sanctions and a boycott. Instead, Myanmar were allowed entry into ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in 1997. New Zealand and Australia are currently negotiating a free trade agreement with ASEAN.
In November 2006 the International Labour Organisation announced it planned to prosecute members of the ruling junta for crimes against humanity - including forced labour of its citizens.
Instead of giving the regime legitimacy by negotiating a trade agreement with them, New Zealand should apply trade sanctions.
New Zealand exports to Myanmar for the year ending June 2007 was $5.8m, with imports from Myanmar totalling $1.4 million. New Zealand's exports were primarily dairy, sugar and steel, and our imports were mostly forestry and forestry products. Given the nature of the regime how can we be sure Myanmar exports are not the work of slaves, or consist of the South East Asian rainforest?
Even the US applied trade sanctions in 2003. Sanctions will cost us a lot less than the political damage such sanctions will do to the regime.
Sure Fonterra will be unhappy if New Zealand stops it selling its dairy wares, but given the nature of the Burmese regime this is not the time to be crying over split milk.