Saturday, 29 August 2015

A good idea finally gets the nod

First, the good news.

On Thursday Paul Goldsmith, the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, announced a welcome change to New Zealand's anti-dumping regime. In future, the plan is, domestic producers won't be able to have cheap peaches or tomatoes or building materials shut out of the New Zealand market unless they can show that the damage to them is more than the damage to New Zealand consumers. Which it often won't be: there's only a  few of them, and there's lots of us. A process that has been much abused for protectionist reasons, both here and abroad, is finally getting defanged.

But why has it taken so long?

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, MBIE, first came up with options for changing the anti-dumping regime in the middle of last year: I wrote about them last July. It was extremely obvious at the time that this new "consumer interest" test was the way to go: as I said, "Free trade often struggles to prevail against producer interests, but even so this should be the easiest, "where do I sign", shoo-in of a policy contest that's ever been run".

Last year rolled by. In December I wondered where the dumping reform had got to: with a number of other small but promising reform proposals, it seemed to have gone to ground within MBIE. Finally, in August, over a year after the obvious way forward had been identified, it gets the tick, though it's still got to go through Parliament. It'll be next year at the earliest before the changes see the light of day.

I understand that there's got to be time allowed for public consultation, and for Ministers to get their colleagues' heads around things. I understand that the legislative hopper can get backlogged. But we like to think we're a small but informal and flexible country, and in any event we need to be if we're going to be internationally competitive. This speed of reform is just too slow.

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