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October 16, 2017 | by  | in Politics | [ssba]

Political Round Up

Final Election Results

The final results of the general election were released on Saturday, October 7, two weeks after voting closed on September 23.

The preliminary results of the votes counted on September 23 saw National with 58 seats, while Labour and the Greens had 52 seats between them. However, the “special votes” — votes cast by voters living overseas, those who enrolled to vote after Writ Day (August 23), and those who voted outside their electorate on election day — have since been counted. The final results saw a slight swing to the left, with Labour and the Greens each gaining one seat, and National correspondingly losing two. NZ First still has nine seats, and ACT has one.

A potential government must have 61 seats in Parliament to govern, which will require either National or the Labour/Greens bloc to make a deal with NZ First.

The final results puts a potential Labour/Greens/NZ First coalition at 63 seats, on a stronger footing than on election night at only 61 seats. However, a National/NZ First government would still have a greater majority, at 65 seats.

In a televised debate on September 20, Bill English claimed that the party with the most seats gets “the first crack” at forming a government. This is not, however, an official New Zealand constitutional rule or convention, nor a requirement under the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system. In other countries with MMP, minority governments are often commonplace. 

Jacinda Ardern had said in her first post-election press conference that the majority of New Zealanders had voted “against the status quo,” a tenuous claim at the time when, according to the preliminary results, a potential Labour/Greens/NZ First coalition would have only a slim majority of 61 seats — exactly the amount required to govern.

Both English and Ardern repeated their positions after hearing the final results on October 7. Ardern claimed that “the majority of people voted for a change to the status quo,” while English asserted that voters “signalled very clearly that they wanted National” to form a government “and we will now get on with the job of trying to give effect to their wishes.” At the time of print, the results of negotiations with NZ First are still unknown.


Brexit and New Zealand

New Zealand’s trading relationship with Great Britain is being affected by Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) and negotiations surrounding EU Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs).

TRQs allow for part of a country’s agricultural products to be imported into the EU at a discounted tariff rate; all remaining imports outside that fixed quota are taxed at full rates. TRQs balance the dual goals of protecting EU farmers and keeping European markets accessible for global trade.

Under the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) 1986 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the EU has agreed to import 230,000 tonnes of New Zealand lamb per year under a TRQ. During Britain’s EU membership, 40% of these lamb products imported into Europe were bought by British consumers.

Despite Britain leaving the EU, Brussels is obliged to honour its TRQ agreement with New Zealand. However, if the EU were to simply spread the British share of the TRQ within the remaining member states, farmers on the continent would have to compete with an influx of cheap meat products from New Zealand, undermining the key function of TRQs to promote a balance between protectionism and market accessibility.

Brussels’ solution, proposed in August, is to spread the allocation between Britain and the EU even after Britain finally leaves.

This may be potentially damaging for New Zealand’s export industry, offering no protection if British consumption of New Zealand meat falls and the British share of the TRQ is left unfilled. If this occurs, and the EU’s portion of the quota has already been filled, New Zealand’s exporters cannot sell more meat to the EU at a reduced tariff.

The New Zealand government has challenged the EU’s proposal, signing an open letter on October 4 to the WTO in opposition to the deal on the basis that it would interrupt “the delicate balance of concessions and entitlements that is fundamental to the global trade architecture today.”

According to journalist Richard Harman, New Zealand officials have considered vetoing the proposal at the WTO if it goes ahead. New Zealand could even block Britain’s proposed entry into the WTO itself in protest, since WTO members must all agree to allow countries to enter the organisation.

The consequences of Brexit have once again shown how vulnerable New Zealand is to political decisions overseas. New Zealand has the ability to stall the quota proposal, but doing so would risk creating tensions with Britain.


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