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NZCTA Commentary - Feb '09

China General Interest

NZCTA has no stance on capital punishment – it’s official!

The melamine scandal in China has just brought its inevitable result and sentences have been passed. The outcome is probably of little surprise to China watchers.

In a way, we suppose, the clamour in New Zealand was of little surprise too.Those on the anti-China bandwagon had two glorious opportunities to display their prejudices.

First, as the scandal broke, with an unfortunate New Zealand connection, it was the chance to associate the whole of China and everything it manufactures with unreliability – worse, with criminal connotations.

Then, when eventually, the China Government took action and brought the perpetrators to trial, found them guilty and, in two cases, passed down the ultimate penalty under Chinese law, it was the opportunity to remount the bandwagon and rail at China’s severe punitive regime.

Spurred by a well meaning but unrealistic plea from Amnesty International for the NZ Government to use "its influence" with the China Government to commute the sentences, the media were quickly into Fonterra and NZCTA to comment on the penalties issued to those found guilty.

Whilst Governments are fully entitled to have firm policies on capital punishment, we can’t for the life of us think why New Zealand corporates should. Still less, Business Associations!

On the benefits of trade agreements, global crisis recovery measures, compliance costs, tax relief for exporters, four weeks per year holidays, immigration of skilled workers etc, etc – yes, indeed.

In the event, Fonterra expressed support of the Government stance and NZCTA reconfirmed the need to understand the Chinese ways of doing business, before attempting to do business with them.

There may very well have been untied loose ends in the aftermath of the trial, as Fran O’Sullivan pointed out in her Chinese New Year weekend article click here.

But to expect, as the Greens and Amnesty apparently do, that the NZ Government can use its trading relationship to change China's culture, values and practices to suit the values of our moderately prosperous, middle class, westernised, slightly liberal society is fanciful, maybe mischievous. All it demonstrates is how insufferably sanctimonious we can sometimes be.

The point about bilateral trade is that it has to take place notwithstanding differences in business rules, constitutional structure and government approach, but these factors do have to be taken into consideration and understood.

Delightful as it would be, only to need to trade with nations, who do better than New Zealand in human rights measures, that can't happen. China happens to be a trading partner, we can't relinquish and one with which we must continue to engage, despite any misgivings about its ways of doing things.

It's probably enough initially anyway to understand how it does things. If you can also understand why it does them or sometimes why it can’t do some things, you’re well on the way to being prepared to do good business in China.

NZCTA deplores trade protection measures and supports international trade. It supports people who want to do business with China, provided they are prepared to do it professionally. That is official!