Hard News by Russell Brown


Piled in bins like summer fruit

This is the world we live in: on Saturday morning I hit Glenfield and bought a selection of electronic goods -- two 4GB USB flash drives, a decent name-brand cordless phone and a Remington trimmer set -- for less than a modest trip to the supermarket cost later in the day.

The goods, at two adjacent shops, were piled in bins like summer fruit. The phone (carton damage) cost about the same as a kilo of basic cheese.

Yesterday's China trade deal really only formalises where we are now. It's not just cheap electronics -- it's expensive food. One story that seems to be have been oddly missing from local news is the global food shock.

The Daily Telegraph says Gordon Brown has been warned that rising food prices could trigger riots. The Christian Science Monitor points out that while we mutter darkly at the checkout, in some countries, people are already rioting.

In part, the crop switch to biofuels is to blame. The cost of petroleum for transport adds some more. But there's also the weird weather.

It would clearly be premature to attribute a couple of strange seasons to climate change, but the disruption of normal crop production is certainly a potential problem with climate change. Further, the financial climate is driving up investment in commodities -- because people still have to eat.

And not the least of the drivers is the simple fact that the people of emerging economies are keen for a place at the table. China and India want meat and dairy products (if not the diseases of affluence that come with their consumption). After a couple of decades of beating up on ourselves for our reliance on commodity exports, we find that those commodities are a sound business. We might also be eating more mince than steak now.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned at the prospect of the world's economic axis swinging to countries where individual rights may matter less. We'll have to find out whether the MOU in the China trade deal on environment and labour standards means much and will be effective. But I really wish that Russel Norman of the Greens would stop speaking as if every Chinese factory is staffed by 12 year-old slaves. People in China have a right to better themselves, to escape rural poverty and to earn themselves more choices. The wage gap will close and the yuan will have to rise.

Not all trade agreements are equal. The Australians prostrated themselves and changed important laws to get their US free trade deal. Our agreement with China seems fairer, more open -- and more exciting.


I have five double passes to the recording of Media7 in central Auckland this evening. You'll get to see a TV show made and still have time for dinner afterwards. Just hit "Reply" below and let me know. UPDATE: All gone! I'll make the offer at a different time next week.

And if you all haven't, feel free to vote for us in the NetGuide Awards. I'm thinking Public Address in the blog site category, and Public Address System in the redesign/relaunch category.

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