Cherry launch Brochure Resurrecting MAI

Speech for Launch of AFTINET’s World Trade Organisation negotiations: resurrecting the MAI? Jubilee Room Parliament House Sydney 24 April 2002


Senator John Cherry, Australian Democrats spokesperson on Trade

I want to thank Pat Ranald and AFTINET for inviting me here today.

Four years after the MAI was buried, the transnationals corporate lobby cranks up another treaty vehicle to expand their rights and influence at the expense of national governments and the public interest.

Pat and her network played a big role in the earlier MAI campaign, as did the Democrats. I want to particularly acknowledge the work of my retiring New South Wales colleague Senator Vicki Bourne on this.

In 1998, the Democrats forced the Government to table the MAI draft in the Senate, persuaded the ALP to back a Parliamentary Inquiry into the MAI, and tabled petitions containing over 11,000 signatures in the Senate. It all helped to wear the Government down.

The Democrats are happy again to be lining up with Pat and AFTINET to fight the next round of inappropriate and anti-Australian trade and investment treaties.

In doing so, I have to say that the Democrats are not opposed to globalisation. Globalisation, properly done, has the potential to bring great wealth to the world. The problem is, it is so rarely done well.

Two weeks ago, Oxfam-Community Aid Abroad released a major report on making trade fair. It acknowledged the potential for freer trade to improve living standards in developing nations. But, it also concluded that the current round of western-run trade negotiations was unlikely to contribute much to reducing global inequality.

And I agree. The pity is that the proactive proposals from Oxfam-Community Aid Abroad to reform international economic institutions and negotiations, to improve global market access for low-income countries, and instigate fairer patent and technological transfer rules are unlikely to attract support from western countries, particularly from Australia.

Oxfam is particularly critical of the proposed General Agreement on Trade in Services, warning that the agreement is skewed in favour of the interests of industrialised countries and the transnational corporations it represents. Oxfam was particularly critical of the role of the European Union in GATS negotiations.

The EU was quite stung, particularly after its list of draft "requests" to other countries was leaked to the media. It released a press release two days ago suggesting that some of Oxfam’s claims, particularly about the GATS were "quite wrong". Yet, the background paper linked to its press release contradicts this by making it clear that the EU believes "it is necessary and possible to increase both the quality and the quantity of commitments across countries, service sectors and modes of supply with a view to reaching comprehensive coverage of services in GATS".

That is trade-speak for the EU running long and hard for the toughest GATS possible.

The developing world stands to be the big loser in all this. Former World Bank economist and Nobel Prize Winner Joseph Stiglitz points to the uneven nature of the playing field on GATS, which emphasises opening up financial services, where the United States is wrong, but is silent on opening up of labour-intensive services where developing countries would have an advantage.

Where does Australia fit in all this?

Well, if the EU draft requests are to be believed, we will be coming under pressure over coming months to deregulate Australia Post, remove ownership restrictions on Telstra and media companies, deregulate and privatise water supply, deregulate education and health and allow the entry of foreign-owned professional firms and banks.

Alexander Downer, in Brussels last Saturday, said Australia had "no intention" of doing those things.

But, anyone who doubted that it is corporate interests that have and will drive the GATS agenda, not just of the EU but also of Australia, need look no further than the DFAT website, where its new newsletter on GATS, posted yesterday, says:

"The GATS negotiations provide Australia with an important opportunity to engage key trading partners at a government to government level and to address impediments to freer and fairer trade facing our exporters. We would urge service exporters who are facing barriers in overseas markets to contact us as soon as possible to discuss where the issues can be made subject of a request in these negotiations."

Requests, the first stage of negotiations, must be submitted by June 30. Initial offers are to be submitted by March next year. This bevvy of activity highlights just how fast this issue is moving.

It highlights how fast we need to get the community moving on this issue as well.

The Australian Democrats call on the Australian Government to publicly release all demands and concessions it proposes to make to other countries for opening up trade in services as part of negotiations on a new General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

Pressure would mount on Australia to remove current regulation of services to allow foreign entry if we made similar requests of other countries.

The Australian public needs to know what our Government is putting on the table, and how that will affect the delivery of services in Australia and in developing countries.

I find it extraordinary that fundamental issues like the regulation of foreign ownership, the delivery of postal services, the regulation of the professions and the privatisation of our water supply are being raised in a secret trade negotiation and the public doesn’t know.

The Federal Government last week invited public comment on its trade negotiation position on services. Such consultation is a farce unless the Federal Government reveals what it proposes to put on the table at GATS.

The Australian public needs to know exactly how much national sovereignty and public interest the Howard Government is prepared to trade away to bolster its free trade obsession.

The GATS campaign will be much harder than the MAI campaign to win. Community pressure was important in the MAI Agreement, but ultimately it was the decision of the French Socialist Government of Lionel Jospain to spike the treaty that killed it.

Earlier this week, Mr Jospain was defeated in the Presidential poll, ironically by his colleagues on the Left including the Greens, the Communists and the Trotskyists who split his vote.

With the EU pursuing a deregulatory agenda, the Bush Administration needing to prove its "free trade" credentials after its steel tariffs hypocrisy, the loss of leftist governments in France and possibly Germany later this year will make it doubly harder to put pressure on for a better outcome for GATS.

But, there is hope. The Australian Government appears to be much more sensitive to pressure on this issue than it was in the past. A cursory look at the expanded DFAT trade website will show that.

But we need to get public attention engaged on this issue. We need to get public debate on the impact of GATS on the regulation of professions, the defence of the public interest on public service delivery, the potential impact on rural services such as postal and telecommunications and the impact on water supply.

GATS makes National Competition Policy look like a teddy bear’s picnic because the deregulation it could unleash would be enforced by the powerful zealots of the World Trade Organisation.

I congratulate AFTINET on the launch of their campaign today, and you can be assured that the Democrats will be doing everything we can to ensure that the public understands the full ramifications of what the GATS will do, to Australia and to the developing world.