Gordon Campbell on Chinese steel dumping, and the 60s revival

Guess who isn’t taking any visible action to ensure New Zealand isn’t damaged by China dumping its state-subsidized steel glut cheaply here? Here’s what the European Union has put in place:

The EU on August 4 slapped five-year tariffs on cold rolled steel products [from China]ranging from 19.7 percent to 22.1.

Here’s what the Australians did in April:

Import duties will be imposed on “unfairly priced” Chinese steel products by the Federal Government in a bid to help embattled South Australian steelmaker Arrium remain competitive. Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said duties of between 37 per cent and 53 per cent of the export price would apply to “rod in coil”, and between 11 per cent and 30 per cent on reinforcing bar. The move is intended to drive down oversupply of Chinese steel, and is based on recommendations by the Anti-Dumping Commission.

Here’s what the Americans did in June:

The U.S. International Trade Commission found cold-rolled steel products from China and Japan, which the United States imported $431.6 million of last year, were unfairly subsidized and sold for less than fair value. As a result, the U.S. Department of Commerce will slap tariffs of as high as 522 percent on cold-rolled steel from China that’s used to make cars and appliances.

Record volumes of cheap Chinese steel caused a global import crisis that the United Steelworkers union blames for more than 14,500 steelworker layoffs in the United States. The Asian nation exported an unprecedented 112 million tons of steel last year as demand there slowed, flooding world markets and driving down prices in an industry with high fixed costs.

Yet here in New Zealand? Despite reports that the Chinese would retaliate against our exports if we dared to act as the rest of the world has done, it will take six months – until January 2017 – for us to even find out if anyone has yet laid an anti-dumping complaint about China’s steel dumping with MBIE, and quite possibly a further six months for MBIE to determine if such complaints have substance, and then more time again to devise and impose a remedy.

Contrast that with the speed at which the Australian anti-dumping complaints process moves, the extent of their public disclosure and the readiness of the Australian government to act on the existing evidence – even before the final determinations are made. Here, for instance, is the public disclosure document on the ‘Rod In Coils’ part of the Aussie steel dumping case against China.

In essence: barely a month after the initial complaint was lodged by the Australian company OneSteel (and only weeks after further backup information was supplied ) the Australian Anti-Dumping Commission was able to issue a 46 public document summarising the allegations and the supportive evidence, plus provide a timeframe for its final determination. Within two months and on the basis of the prima facie case alone, the Australian government had acted to impose import duties on Chinese steel to protect the Aussie steel company being put in danger by China’s unfair trade practices.

The above example was not exceptional. Look at any of the Australian Anti-Dumping Commission reports, and there’s a similar pattern of speed, transparency and extensive public disclosure occurring in parallel with the actual investigation.

What’s wrong with us? Why the blanket secrecy here, why the interminable delays, why the timidity towards China? Surely Steven Joyce, that supposedly hyperactive Minister of Everything can get MBIE to do better, faster and more openly? Unless, of course, the New Zealand government is happy to sacrifice local industry and jobs to curry favour with China. We do seem to be the only developed country in 2016 that’s declining to take action against China’s dumping of its steel glut. Really, this is precisely why ‘free trade’ has such a bad profile in this country. As practiced, it consists of New Zealand being a doormat for the world’s major economies.

The 60s, again

Outasight. This past week or so, the political landscape has looked like a flashback to the 1960s, what with cannabis reform and the Vietnam War being back in the headlines. The survey of public attitudes to cannabis was a welcome vote for good sense and sensibility: as we now know, some two thirds of New Zealanders now support either the decriminalization of cannabis or its outright legalisation, while an even higher proportion (82%!) are in favour of easier access to cannabis for medical use!

The lukewarm-to-hostile political response has unfolded along entirely predictable lines. New Zealand First called for a referendum – their usual response to social controversy – on decriminalising cannabis, a proposal that would keep the drug illegal but leave its users liable for civil fines. The Greens advocated the drug’s legalization. Both major parties kicked for touch, using the same cautionary arguments we’ve been hearing ad nauseam since the 1960s – ie, (a) think of the young people (b) what kind of example would Parliament be setting (c) what about the need to treat users and sellers differently and – a real doozy from Prime Minister John Key (d) before long you’d have cannabis shops on every street corner, and then where would we be?

Of course, few such concerns apply to the marketing and sale of alcohol – where the precious, sensitive minds and bodies of the young are treated by politicians as entirely expendable. As for the users vs sellers distinction….the Key government has refused to raise taxes significantly on alcohol merchants, in order to reduce consumption. Even alcopops, known to be the gateway drugs to alcohol misuse by the young, have been shielded by then Justice Minister Judith Collins from punitive taxation, a protection that she consistently extended – in 2012 and in 2014 – to alcohol in general. (Doug McKay, formerly a prominent alcopops peddler, went on to become the CEO of Auckland City Council.

As for the argument that Parliament acting to soften the cannabis laws would allegedly send a bad message to society…hey, since the 1960s, its been a really bad look for parliamentarians (some of whom have been known to over-indulge in their drug of choice) to be blissfully unconcerned that young people can get a criminal record for recreational use of their drug of choice. Finally, Parliament’sreluctance to embrace the medical use of cannabis for pain relief sends a particularly callous message, and one that’s plainly at odds with public opinion. What’s the political pain threshold here?

Vietnam, Redux

Public opinion was even more polarized in the 1960s over the Vietnam War than it was over drugs, and only the passage of time has dulled the passions involved. This week’s thwarted commemoration of the 1966 battle of Long Tan has shown just how readily these divisions can re-emerge. In the end, Vietnam chose to cancel the 50th anniversary commemoration of a conflict in which between 250-900 of its troops (the body counts differ substantially) had died, and thousands were wounded. Some 18 Australian troops died in the Long Tan fighting. There’s a detailed breakdown of the battle here.

Officially, Vietnam still treats Long Tan as a victory, despite those heavy losses, and despite the strategic setback the Viet Cong insurgency apparently suffered in the wake of the battle. About 3,000 Australian veterans – who also regard Long Tan as a victory – had spent a lot of money ( not to mention 18 months of planning) to attend the battle site, and they were reportedly offended by a last minute cancellation that’s being described across the Tasman as a ‘kick in the guts.’ Really? The Australians’ claim that they were being sensitive to Vietnam’s feelings seems at odds with the decision to restage a Vietnam War era concert by the Aussie singer Little Pattie, as part of the festivities. Ultimately, Vietnam concluded that the solemn occasion still carried a potential for offensive displays of Aussie triumphalism. Their call, after all.

Interestingly…in New Zealand, the 50th anniversary of the Long Tan victory has reportedly been planned as a commemorative occasion to recognize our entire Vietnam War effort. Really? For a very long time, this country’s Vietnam veterans have complained that the public have not been sufficiently grateful to them. (You get the feeling that nothing short of a public apology by the protest movement would suffice.) But…is selecting one of the very few ‘victories’ racked up by the Oz/Kiwi forces in Vietnam as an overarching symbol really all that acceptable? Especially when you’re simultaneously trying to claim that you’re not really out to valorise the war effort? It suggests that nothing much has been learned from our Vietnam endeavour.

And since the 1960s…

One odd aspect of post-Vietnam politics is that those politicians who – by various ruses and influence peddling – didn’t serve in the US military in Vietnam (eg Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Donald Trump) have fared a whole lot better than those who served valiantly on the front lines. Former POW John McCain for instance, has been derided as a ‘loser’ this year by Trump, while John Kerry’s Swift Boat heroics in Vietnam came undersceptical attack in 2004 by wealthy draft dodger George W. Bush. So much so that the term ‘swiftboating’ is now part of the US political language, as a term for false but successful negative campaigning.

Trump avoided military service in the 1960s thanks to a ‘bone spur’ in his heel that won him a medical exemption. The man couldn’t march. This year, when asked to single out what sacrifices he’d made for the country, he listed the ways in which he had used his opportunities to make himself rich. Well, my apologies for picking such an obvious 1960s song to castigate this kind of chickenhawkery, but this is one of the very few hit songs about the class structure in America, and within the military to boot. That’s maybe worth keeping in mind in a country where the NZ Defence Force is still the main employer of Maori.

2 Comments on Gordon Campbell on Chinese steel dumping, and the 60s revival

  1. Commemorate NZ Vietnam War veterans.

    Why.

    They were all volunteers participating on the wrong side of an war that was illegal under international law.

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