ALP Senate Select Inquiry on USFTA

AFTINET ALERT
28/1/04

ALP Senate Select Inquiry on USFTA

Opposition Leader Mark Latham and Shadow Trade Minister Stephen Conroy released this statement on January 27. The aim is for the inquiry to begin as soon as the text of any agreement becomes available. If agreement is reached soon this could be in February or early March. In media interviews Latham spoke of a three month period and public hearings around Australia. Note that the criteria include employment in services and manufacturing, retaining regulation and provision of essential services, including the PBS, local content in audio visual services and opposition to enabling US companies to challenge Australian laws and regulation.

Labor will refer any Free Trade Agreement concluded between the Australian and US Governments to a Senate Select Committee for thorough examination.

This will provide an effective democratic and transparent process to review the FTA in its totality to be sure it is in Australia's national interest. If the FTA does not meet Labor's national interest criteria, Labor will not support it, or its legislative passage, through Parliament.

The possibility of an Australia-US FTA has significant implications for Australia's economy and trading interests.

It also has the potential for major impact on many of Australia's social policies, including the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), and local content provisions for Australian culture in current and future audio-visual media.

Labor is concerned at the Government's rush to meet a self-imposed deadline in the negotiations. This must be a good deal, not a fast deal.

Labor supports the principles of free trade, especially in multilateral agreements. With bilateral agreements however, we must be careful to ensure that net gain flows to Australia.

The proposed Australia-US FTA must:

  • Deliver significant and comprehensive benefits to Australia, including in agriculture (dairy, beef and sugar) in a reasonable period of time (For instance, the NFF has indicated 5 years).
  • Deliver significant employment and investment gains for Australia's manufacturing and service industries.
  • Not undermine the ability of Australian Governments to provide and regulate essential services in health and education, including the PBS.
  • Not undermine the capacity of Australian Governments to protect Australian culture by regulating for local content in the future delivery of audio-visual products.
  • Not undermine the sovereignty of Australian Government laws and regulations or expose them to potential legal challenge by US companies.
  • Not undermine Australia's access to Asian markets (the primary destination for our exports) or our WTO and APEC objectives.
  • These and other features must pass proper parliamentary scrutiny. The Howard Government has excluded other parties and the public from the negotiating process. On two occasions the Government has refused Labor's request to be part of the negotiating team.

A Senate Select Committee will overcome this lack of transparency and ensure that the Australian people can have their say about the FTA.

Labor will always put Australia first and ensure that trade deals serve our national interest before passing them into law.