Interview: Trading in Principle
Unions: While We Were Away
Politics: Follow the Leader
Bad Boss: Safety Recidivist Fingered
Economics: Casualisation Shrouded In Myths
History: Worker Control Harco Style
Review: Other Side Of The Harbour
All The Way With FTA?
State Of Confusion
Give Them A Medal
The Westie Wing
There's a lot of talk about "Free Trade" around at the moment and it serves as a good reminder of New South Wales's place in the world.
It's a sobering thought to see the current total budget of New South Wales standing at $35 billion next to a projected budget deficit in the USA of AUD$688 billion. That deficit alone is less than 5% of Gross Domestic Product for the USA.
So when John Howard and his cronies try to sell the line that Australia, let alone New South Wales, can compete equally with the USA under a "Free Trade Agreement" it is simply laughable. Australia's trading power is about as significant as a pimple on the arse of the imperial elephant.
That's not to say global trade is not worthwhile, just that it's a vicious game and the only way to succeed is to win. And winning is easiest when you're bigger and stronger than the rest.
It doesn't seem worth the effort if we can export a few utes to America at the price of losing control of the entire car manufacturing industry. It's not a plan for more jobs but a threat to our national sovereignty, identity and independence.
The bi-lateral Free Trade Agreement on beef is a prime example of the relative size of Australia and the USA. The latest agreement is to increase the export beef quota to 70,000 tonnes of beef a year by 2022.
The USA produces 70,000 tonnes of beef in less than two days. And when American diners have had their fill, the excess gets dumped on the export market, undercutting foreign beef exporters. Free Trade Agreement or not, America still gets fatter.
We know that the USA has the biggest guns and the biggest chequebook, so our chances of healthy competition are slim. Global trade is a war with few rules or regulations, so Australia must be sure about what part of the marketplace or battleground we want to excel in.
We might be allies with America in their war on terror but we're enemies in the trade war. And, of course, truth remains the first casualty of war. The text of the Bi-lateral Free Trade Agreement will slowly be revealed, but only after being heavily spin-doctored by both sides.
Premier Bob Carr, as Minister for the Arts, pointed out the disparity between the stories told by the Australian and United States Governments about media services. The US is claiming "unprecedented provisions to improve market access for US films and television programs" in Australia while the Federal Government claims to have protected local media content. The truth is that there will be no change to existing free-to-air rules but concessions to the US on pay-tv and the internet.
Another type of war where truth is the first casualty is general election campaigns, which are beginning in both Australia and the USA at the moment.
We've seen John Howard's naked exploitation of the issue of border protection--about "illegals" coming into our country and threatening our way of life, but when it comes to the Prime Minister holding the door open to American imperialism, it's a different matter altogether.
Of course, another big election issue in Australia is about Medicare, which goes hand-in-hand with the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). If Howard has his way, he will scrap bulk-billing and trade away the PBS to create a user-pays health system, just like America's.
The Free Trade Agreement with the USA contains an appeal mechanism in the review process of listing medication on the PBS. The huge American pharmaceutical companies want to charge more for their products than they can get the Government to buy them for. After all, these American pharmaceutical companies are the same crowd that would rather see 3,000 Zimbabweans die of AIDS every week instead of cutting some of their massive profits to provide affordable medicines to the Third World.
It is left to aid agencies such as APHEDA to deal with this unnecessary situation. What a coincidence it is that these same companies are also massive contributors to US Presidential election campaigns!
What has to be remembered in all the conservative talk of "Free Trade Agreements" is that they are not a new idea or a cure to all ills.
The colony of New South Wales was a strong supporter of Free Trade in the 1880s. The political parties of the day were called Free Traders and Protectionists. Tariffs were their concern and imports and exports was their game. In 1891, the price of wool slumped and that was a major cause of the 1890s depression.
And it's no different today when we see massive agricultural and industrial subsidies in place around the world, with large exporters trying to break down trade barriers so that they can reap the benefits alone. If they don't get their way, they dump surplus products on foreign markets to collapse prices.
The men and women of New South Wales and their families are all affected by trade agreements, because they influence employment and the price and quality of goods and services. The last thing we want is to be sold a deal where jobs go three for the price of one. We don't want Australian companies to be crushed by larger American firms. We want to keep our identity and enforce our sovereignty.
If Australia fights the trade war intelligently it can win in some sectors, but the stakes are very high and we are clearly bargaining from a position of weakness.
It is a challenging conflict that must be approached strategically if Australia and particularly New South Wales are to benefit.
For more information on What's On in NSW Parliament, go to www.ianwestmlc.com.au/new.html (WARNING: sunglasses recommended)
I am interested to hear feedback and ideas--you can contact my office on (02) 9230 2052 or email me at [email protected]
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