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Launching Labour's procurement policy before Hillside Engineering rail workers and others, Mr Goff said government departments would be required to look at the wider economic benefits when tendering contracts.
Keeping work local contributed to the tax base, while building workers' skills and creating job opportunities.
Local firms would miss out only where there was an overwhelming economic case for tenders to go off-shore.
Mr Goff said the policy complied with New Zealand's trade agreements, including its free-trade agreement with China.
Procurement policies were common in other countries, including the United States, he said, adding that had such a policy been in place, the Hillside jobs would have been safe.
Unlike the National Party, Labour had learnt from the mistakes of the past, and no longer subscribed to purely free-market policies, Mr Goff told those assembled.
He sympathised with the workers who lost their jobs yesterday, and said it was a sad day for Hillside and Dunedin.
Rail engineering was part of the "productive sector" Labour sought to strengthen with a capital gains tax and other policies.