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January 2004

AFTINET has delivered the copies of our USFTA Statement, signed by 2,223 individuals and 63 organisations, to Canberra and delivered them to Minister Vaile's office. The Statement condemns the USFTA's restrictions on democratic policies, demanded exclusion of all health, social and environmental policies, no powers for corporations to sue governments and that parliament, not Cabinet, should vote on trade agreements.

The Statement is below.

Sign-On Statement

The Australia-US Free Trade Agreement: Trading Australia Away?

The Australian and US Governments are negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) for completion by the end of this year. The negotiations are being held in secret and Cabinet will ratify the final deal, not Federal Parliament. Once the FTA is signed it is binding on all future federal , state and local governments.

The FTA would "freeze" at current levels all government regulation on services and investment unless it is specifically excluded. This weakens our democratic system and national sovereignty by preventing future governments from regulating in the public interest. It would also allow US corporations to challenge Australia’s social and environmental laws and sue governments for damages. These were the unacceptable rules of the infamous Multilateral Agreement on Investment which was defeated by community campaigning in 1998.

US negotiators have identified key Australian social policies as "barriers to trade":

  • Under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) the government pays low wholesale prices by buying the cheapest effective prescription medicines and then making them available to Australians at affordable prices. US wholesale prices are over three times the Australian prices. US drug companies want higher wholesale prices, which would then be passed on to us.

  • Regulation of essential services such as health, education, water and postal services. Public regulation and provision of these services could be challenged as barriers to trade. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) the giant courier company UPS has challenged Canada Post's public provision of postal services as a barrier to trade.

  • Labelling of genetically modified food and regulation of genetically modified crops, which gives Australians choice about consuming them. US agribusiness has successfully lobbied against regulation in the US and the US wants to restrict it here.

  • Local content rules in film, television and music which ensure that Australian voices are heard and Australian stories are told. US media companies already have a large share of the Australian market, but they want to restrict regulation in this area.

  • The US wants to reduce the powers of the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) and to remove limits on foreign investment in Australian media, telecommunications and airlines.

  • The US has identified Australia's quarantine laws as a barrier to trade and wants them relaxed.

Social policies in the public interest should be publicly debated here and decided by parliaments at the national or state level, not negotiated in a trade agreement.

We call on the Australian Government to:

  • exclude all social and cultural policies and essential services from trade agreements
  • reject proposals to allow corporations to challenge laws and sue governments
  • refer trade agreements to full debate and vote by Parliament, not just Cabinet.

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