New Zealand and the European Union

By Ricketts, Rita | New Zealand International Review, March-April 2009 | Go to article overview

New Zealand and the European Union


Ricketts, Rita, New Zealand International Review


NEW ZEALAND AND THE EUROPEAN UNION

Editor: Matthew Gibbons

Published by: Pearson Education New Zealand, North Shore, 2008, 172pp, $50.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The latest study of New Zealand and the European Union, edited by Matthew Gibbons, which merits a careful and lengthy scrutiny, is a timely reminder of the importance of this relationship. It is also a welcome addition to a canon that charted the history of a small country with slender means going back beyond the days when agricultural products were first transported in new-fangled refrigerated steam ships to the origins of Imperial Preference, the kith and kin struggle to secure continued access to Britain for dairy products and sheep meats and a titanic battle with the CAP. This slender and much condensed study, given the enormity of the subject, updates New Zealand's adventure on the high seas of trade with Europe. And its findings have resonance as the Doha negotiations drag on and there are shadowy hints of increased American and European protectionism to counteract recession.

Matthew Gibbons's introduction, starting with British/New Zealand relations, guides the reader through the labyrinths of the past. He focuses on the 'inevitable decline' of New Zealand exports to the United Kingdom, a fact that officials had predicted in the early 1950s. Even then, as these officials clearly understood, New Zealand knew it had to seek its own fortune: one matching its Pacific context, its increasing reliance on the United States as the guarantor of its security in the Pacific and the contraction of British defence interests. Trade would eventually follow the flag. But for the foreseeable future, Britain, albeit in decline as a power, remained New Zealand's primary market. In 1961, when Duncan Sandys came to Wellington to announce British intention to join the Common Market, officials extracted a promise that membership would not go ahead unless special arrangements were made to protect New Zealand. Politicians and officials knew just how to play on the heart strings of their alma mater. Written on their sleeves was a record of sheer loyalty, one that could not be denied. They were tough too; John Ormond told of how he kept Sandys and Eric Roll up all night!

In the event General de Gaulle provided New Zealand's reprieve; he vetoed British membership on the grounds not only that it put Commonwealth agriculture first but also that it was the Trojan horse by which America would gain sway in Brussels. By the time Britain joined the EEC in 1972, Gibbon's suggests, New Zealand's heroic efforts there had gone off the boil. Messrs Marshall, Kirk, Rowling and Muldoon would doubtless contest this. Official and oral history would support the claim that there was no let-up in the intensity of New Zealand's campaign: its 'milk-run', as John Marshall termed it. Carol Neill summarises this campaign and rightly concludes that it was not a lack of New Zealand effort that led to the declining UK market, but changes in consumer taste and the insularity of its farmers. In Europe, too, there was no lack of effort on New Zealand's part. It is well known, and eternally the butt of wearisome jokes in European capitals, that New Zealand was and is and ever shall be there at the door and cannot be ignored. The late Edward Heath viewed this persistence as a thorn in the side. He wanted to usher Britain safely through the portals of the Common Market. When its membership was held up, for ten years, he blamed New Zealand.

New Zealand's persistence was irritating, too, for the United States, whose long term goal of scuppering the Ottawa agreement was also delayed. While trade and foreign affairs officials worked relentlessly hard to raise New Zealand's profile, not only in London but also in Brussels, Paris, Cologne, and, of course, Washington, nothing could overcome the intransigence of successive Commissioners of Agriculture and US trade officials, who jealously guarded the interests of their farmers. …

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