Small Can Be Smart; David Lange Reflects on New Zealand's Ability to 'Trade Difficulties' and Influence Peace by Other Means
Ricketts, Rita, New Zealand International Review
Jovial as ever, undeterred by illness, laureate David Lange was in customary form, ready as ever with quip or tantalising aside. At his Brussels talk following the award of his Alternative Nobel Peace Prize in December 2003, the very large turnout belied the cold, snowy, winter's night. But the chill of the weather was soon dispelled. It was as nothing, Lange threw away, compared with the chill that must have been felt by New Zealand officials who first came to Brussels in the mid-1950s to fight for New Zealand's economic survival. Fifty years ago New Zealand was almost totally dependent on the British market, and consumer demand for butter and sheep meat was falling. Worse still, Lange explained, word was out that Britain would seek entry to the European Common Market. All that is history now. New Zealand had emerged from protracted negotiations with Britain and the European Community (1960-72) to win acceptance of its 'special case', both in Europe and America. Finding its own feet, and carving niches in world markets, New Zealand went on to play a lead role in multilateral negotiations. (2) Now it is an equal, albeit smaller, partner in the campaign to liberalise world trade and put sustainability at the top of the political agenda.
Lange confessed that he has never been surprised at New Zealand's ability to exercise influence in almost reverse proportion to its size. Despite its remoteness, small size and dependence on agriculture, it is a country that straddles 'North' and 'South'. Its geography and history link it to the new and old worlds, and it had long become adept at fighting its own corner. Breaking the back of a terrain that was almost impenetrable and harnessing the weather, New Zealanders had created a 'food farm' to rival the world's best. And nothing was to stymie this natural advantage. When in the 1930s Britain wanted to re-negotiate Commonwealth Preference, New Zealand squared-up at Ottawa and won its case, shoring up 'continued and unrestricted' access to British markets. Again, when Britain applied to join 'the Six', this 'right' was threatened and New Zealand went on the offensive. But the goalposts had been moved. Henceforth New Zealand not only was up against the powerful European farmers and the emerging Common Agricultural Policy but also had to contend with American protectionism.
From their earlier intelligence gathering, New Zealand officials knew that the United States was out 'to smash Ottawa utterly'. (3) With the British application on the table in Brussels, America saw its chance. (4) Yet wooed by the skill of New Zealand officials, and mindful of the ANZUS alliance, America stayed its hand. To everyone's surprise, it conceded that 'special accommodation must be found' for New Zealand. (5) But as New Zealand succeeded in diversifying into worldwide markets, its unilateral case became less convincing. While it retained the general support of Britain, whose market for butter and sheep meat remained open though reduced, it had elsewhere to face the combined might of the United States, Japan and the European Union. New Zealand's best bet was to advance its case in new alliances, with other agricultural producers. Within the Cairns Group, it succeeded it putting agriculture on the multilateral agenda (Uruguay 1994). This collaboration continues with New Zealand, increasing the profile of the 'South', urging OECD countries to reduce their subsidies by a further 20 per cent and accept 'discriminatory' arrangements for developing countries. (6)
'But why is New Zealand's voice heard above the din?' Lange asked rhetorically. His answer was clear. 'New Zealand, with its subsidy free farming and de-regulated economy, has street cred; it has earned its reputation as an honest broker'. (7) And this advantage, gained in trade negotiations, had always flowed over into foreign policy. For New Zealand trade policy is foreign policy by another means--a sentiment often heard on the lips of Lange predecessor's Rob Muldoon and his erstwhile Secretary to the Treasury Bernie Galvin. …