Saturday, November 23, 2002

Free Trade Relaxation Therapy

Saturday, 23 November 2002

Hugh Mackay has returned to form after last week's abberation, with an article in today's Age on the Free Trade Agreement that we intend to start negotiating with the US in another couple of months. Hugh notes some interesting provisions in the fine print of the proposed deal: relaxation of foreign investment controls,food labelling laws, dismantling of marketing authorities for agricultural commodities and possibly relaxation of quarantine laws. He comments:

At a time when the Federal Government has garnered strong community support for its border protection strategies ("We have the right to decide who comes here"), serious consideration is apparently being given to the idea that another country might override our foreign investment rules and quarantine regulations in return for a greater willingness to buy our products.

I think Hugh is being a little alarmist here: the clauses in question may simply be treaty "boilerplate", similar to those antiquated clauses in mortgage contracts which grant your bank manager the right to pasture his horses on your back lawn and, of course, very few bank managers ever exercise this right. Or they may represent an ambit claim, and we can be sure that Prime Minister John Howard, who has so capably demonstrated his ability to enunciate a foreign policy that reflects Australia's national interests rather than a sentimental attachment to the US alliance will do his utmost to ensure that our sovereignty is preserved.

Looking to the other side of politics we can be equally assured that a Crean Labor government will be equally firm on these issues. Simon Crean has made it abundantly clear that he believes that the agreement must be comprehensive so I'm sure that at the very least he will insist that any concessions we make in the area of national sovereignty must be matched by an equal willingness on the part of the US to make similar sacrifices. On the whole, I think Hugh should calm down and try to feel a little more relaxed and comfortable with this.

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