Jun/96: Global marketplace, colonial agendas


Aziz Choudry
June, 1996

reprinted here with permission of author

Maori lawyer Moana Jackson (Ngati Kahungunu, Ngati Porou) says "Colonial leopards rarely change their spots. They just stalk their prey in different ways." The GATT/WTO, NAFTA, APEC, and the 12 years of domestic market reforms that have made Aotearoa/New Zealand one of the most 'structurally adjusted' economies in the Western world must be seen in a context of the ongoing colonisation of Maori lands, lives, resources and futures. New Zealand society is based on the predatory economic, social and political subordination of Maori. Recent waves of colonisation have compounded longstanding injustices.

The Treaty of Waitangi, signed between Maori and British Crown representatives in 1840 affirmed Maori tino rangatiratanga - their sovereign right of self-determination - and allowed Pakeha (European) settlers to govern their own. However, successive governments have interpreted the Treaty as a cession of Maori sovereignty to the Crown. New Zealand governments still refuse to honour the Treaty but are much less reticent about making far-reaching international commitments in forums like GATT and APEC without consulting Maori or tauiwi (non-Maori).

Behind free trade lurks a world-view which commodifies all things, even life itself, and an ideology excluding social, cultural and environmental considerations in favour of market mantras. It upholds rights of individual entities, like corporations, over those of peoples. Internationally "indigenous peoples...are defined as 'populations' of nation-states rather than 'peoples or nations'. This...allows those in control of the economic power structures to maintain control over indigenous land and resources," states one indigenous writer from the Okanagan Nation.

"Dispossessed of control over their economic base, and fighting for survival on the playing field of a colonising culture, an overwhelming number of Maori people became dependent on the welfare state for jobs and income support. The state had made them dependent. Now, in the name of market freedom, it was about to kick that support away", writes Jane Kelsey, author and Auckland University law lecturer. Since 1984, Labour and National governments have returned to the economic theories of the past, removing virtually all subsidies to industry and drastically lowering tariffs, causing huge job losses. The Business Roundtable, the organised lobby of big business, and the neoliberal ideologues in Treasury were elevated to the status of New Zealand's true visionaries. Tax cuts for the rich and big business accompanied benefit cuts for the poor, while the government rapidly moved to privatise and sell almost every area in which the state had a traditional stake. In the name of freedom, efficiency, international competitiveness and reducing foreign debt, the "invisible hand of the market" smashed open a highly protected economy. The dismantling of health, education and welfare, and labour market deregulation soon followed. The New Right revolution in Aotearoa has been called "Chile without a gun".

Maori have been strongly fighting the corporatisation, privatisation and sale of state-owned assets, themselves based on the dispossession of Maori lands and resources in breach of the Treaty. Land was taken for schools, hospitals, railways, roads, and other public works. Many Maori people-centred community development initiatives have quietly challenged dominant market models held up as the only possibilities.

Domestic policy designed to make the country attractive to transnational capital, combined with international commitments to free trade and investment regimes are intimately related to the push to fasttrack Treaty claims. Educationalist Graham Smith (Ngati Apa, Te Aitanga A Hauiti) calls the Treaty a significant 'structural impediment' to the global free market economy and further asset sales which the OECD and other exponents of neoliberal theory call for. Once in private, and eventually transnational hands, it would be far harder for Maori to regain control over their lands and resources.

Maori concerns about the GATT TRIPs regime and renewed threats to indigenous intellectual property have been widely expressed. With increasing pressures to harmonise intellectual property laws and growing commercial interest in traditional knowledge, Maori knowledge and native plants are already being targetted by TNCs. But Maori have strongly criticised both GATT and the process by which the Government committed itself to such binding international commitments. Jackson notes: "GATT is a direct denial of the rights of Maori as stated in the 1835 Declaration of Independence and as reaffirmed in the Treaty of Waitangi [and] is also a continuation of the 'New' Right policies of individuated monetarism which have done so much damage to the collectivity of Maori throughout colonisation." In November 1994, the pan-tribal Maori Congress rejected the Crown's ratification of GATT, exempting member tribes from its provisions. It criticised the Government for overstepping its Treaty responsibilities and democratic mandate by not seeking the public's consent before signing.

Smith writes: "Historically the same processes of commodification were used by Pakeha to access Maori land. This was achieved through the individualisation of Maori land titles i.e. to commodify or 'package up' what were collective or group held titles into individual holdings in order to facilitate their sale to Pakeha under Pakeha rules and custom." Of the country's 66 million acres, only 3 million remain in Maori hands. Further erosion of indigenous rights through imposing domestic market reforms, the promotion of market models of 'development' for indigenous communities and moves to bring about even more favourable conditions for transnational investment are occurring not only in the South, but in settler colonies such as Aotearoa and Canada. Indigenous peoples in these lands have long been at the coalface of struggles between those who value people's rights, life and the environment and those whose primary concern is corporate profit. Non-indigenous people's lives are also affected by the same kinds of processes and ideology used to deny indigenous societies their lands, resources, and social, political, cultural and economic rights to self-determination. The shock of the radical reforms has led to a growing number of Pakeha who feel betrayed, disenfranchised, and alienated. Kelsey describes the dominant Pakeha identity: "fostered by the political and legal institutions of the colonial state [it] combined settler supremacism with the complacency of welfare democracy. The global free market threatened that identity".

In late 1994, the government unveiled its 'fiscal envelope' policy, a NZ $1 billion take-it-or-leave-it deal, seeking full and final settlement of all Treaty claims with Maori. This reduced all colonial injustices to a sum of money. The Te Ika Whenua claim to the Kaingaroa forest in the central North Island alone is estimated to have a monetary value of at least NZ $5 billion. This 20th century blanket and beads solution was emphatically rejected by Maori throughout Aotearoa. During 1995, land occupations, protests and decolonisation work among growingly politicised Maori put the issue of Maori sovereignty in the headlines. The fiscal envelope is a Treasury-created plan to wipe out Maori opposition to the further sale of Aotearoa to transnational interests as swiftly as possible.

Eager to attract investment and be seen as a driving force in global economic integration, the government gives investors guarantees of open access to lands and resources which it itself has no right to, deregulating the economy at an even greater pace than demanded by GATT and APEC. Jackson sees the government as a 'neo-colonial harlot', prostituting itself for the highest investment price. "Unfortunately the assets with which it prostitutes itself belong to Maori". Between 1988 and 1993, New Zealand led the world in sales of state-owned assets, often at fire sale prices, to overseas investors - some NZ $14 billion or 3.6% of the annual GDP. From 1987 to 1994 the Overseas Investment Commission refused only four of 7100 applications to purchase New Zealand assets. Ngati Pikiao lawyer Annette Sykes challenged potential overseas investors and development bankers during last year's ADB meeting in Auckland: "It's about time you sat down and talked to us because the present illegal government has no warrant to deal with resources, neither for the past, nor the present, and certainly not for the future..."

Treaty settlement policy is driven by the same slash and burn market logic as the notorious reform of Article 27 of Mexico's constitution by President Salinas in preparation for the NAFTA. Effectively gutting the ejido system of communal landholdings, this privatised lands on which mainly indigenous peasants depend for subsistence farming, opening the way for foreign ownership, and was a major grievance for the 1994 Zapatista uprising. Similarly, New Zealand Government policies aim to create open access to Maori lands and resources subject to Treaty claims.

Pro-freemarket politicians and businesspeople have labelled as "racist" criticism of the rights of foreign companies to invest here. Such "trade-related anti-racism" does not extend to concern for Maori rights. Maori nationalists have been demonised in much of the media and targetted by the state for their views and actions, scapegoated for various real or perceived social and economic ills, and even threatened with sedition charges for statements opposing foreign investment. Many tauiwi are appalled by the corporate capture of the economy and the erosion of their political, legal and economic "sovereignty". For Maori, this is not new. Tauiwi who abhor the freedom of TNCs to wander and plunder at will through 'free trade' cannot afford to stand by and watch this new wave of colonisation of indigenous peoples, and their lands and resources and assume that they are not affected. Maori resistance and demands for self-determination are also a warning that mere reversion to a kind of New Zealand "state sovereignty" is not a sustainable alternative as long as it is based on invasion and dispossession is not a sustainable or just alternative to the free market agenda. Genuine alternatives to, and liberation from corporate rule and inhuman models of development cannot be found without addressing the issue of indigenous sovereignty and rebuilding a world-view which is not based on market greed.

Aziz Choudry is an activist with GATT Watchdog.

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