Interview: The Reich Stuff
Economics: Crime and Punishment
Environment: Beyond The Wedge
International: The End Of The Lucky Country
Safety: Tests Fail Tests
Politics: Labo(u)r Day
Human Rights: Arabian Lights
History: Labour's Titan
Review: Foxy Fiasco
Poetry: Then I Saw The Light
The Locker Room
What’s In a Name?
Let's Start A New Party
The End Of The Lucky Country
THE END OF THE LUCKY COUNTRY?
How to kill a country - Step 6
You get a lousy deal, so how do you sell it?. First you loudly congratulate yourself on having achieved a magnificent outcome. Then you identify the winners and losers and set one against the other, bribing some, bullying or browbeating other, and generally making sure that nobody sees the national interest as a whole. Then you demonise any dissenting voice as anti-free trade and, above all, hostile to good relations with the foreign party involved. Finally, you buy off or intimidate the press and broadcasting services. There is, however, one sector you cannot buy off and the is the publishers of books. Thank havens nobody reads them!
The question that remain at the end of this analysis is: why would a government and a country accede to a deal that is so flagrantly at odds with their interest? In trying to make sense of this puzzle, we focus here on two main issue:
We conclude with an examination of what Australians can do to minimize the dangers that lie ahead.
How the deal was done
We know that prior to this deal, Australia had twice been approached by the United States for a bilateral trade deal (in 1992 and 1997), and twice rejected this offer on national interest grounds. So what lay behind our government's recent about-face? What prompted the Howard Government to initiate free trade talks with the United States in 2001? What had changed so dramatically in the space of four years?
One of the most significant changes was the collapse of multilateral trade talks in Seattle in 1999, which called the future of the WTO system into question. As multilateralism stalled, countries wanting speedier results on trade and investment liberalisation began throwing their efforts into regional and bilateral trade agreements. Now Australia was had always been a leading advocate of mulitlateralism, and was loathe to break with the tradition. But as bilateral and regional agreements proliferated around us, a fear emerged that if we did not jump on the bilateral bus, we might find ourselves left behind. Fear of being frozen out of trade agreements played heavily on the minds of Australian officials, and undoubtedly contributed to the decision to throw caution to the wind and seek a deal with the biggest kid on the block.
The desirability of the united States as a bilateral partner was boasted by September 11 and the Bali Bombing and the emergence of the "war on terror" as a new national priority; a free trade deal with the United States would be one more like in the chain binding us together with the world's military superpower - a safe bet in such uncertain times. In the words of Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile:
.....and FTA with the United States offers us not just direct economic and commercial benefits. Because of the sheer size and reach of the United States, the FTA will provide Australia with spin-off benefits far beyond the actual text of the agreement. It is an opportunity to negotiate deeper integration with not only the world's largest economy, but also the world's pre-eminent strategic power .... it is an opportunity to put our economic relations on the same nature footing as our political and security relations.
'Special deals for special friends'?'
There was, however, another reason for our new-found faith in a trade deal with the United States: the idea that our loyal support for the United States in two of its most internationally unpopular efforts - the invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq war - would translate into economic wins. Without a doubt, there was tacit view in the Australian government that toeing the line on military and foreign affairs would translate into a special deal on trade and economic affairs. The following excerpt from a television interview with both Mark Vaile and former trade negotiator (and leading FTA enthusiast) Alan Oxley is particularly illuminating in this regards:
Helen Dalley: But now should be the best time ever for Australia to pull off a trade coup with Washington. As our troops stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans against the axis of evil, Australia is one of very few countries offering unfailing support for the United States ... The effusive support for John Howard in the Congress is a rarity for a foreign head of state . the Australian proponents of a US-Australia FTA claim the time is indeed ripe for a trade pay-off.
Alan Oxley (Aust. APEC Study Centre): We've got a special relationship with the United States, which the PM seems to have intensified. Maybe he lucked in, and I think our contribution in Afghanistan produced a dividend. The President agreed that the United States would negotiate a FTA with us in full knowledge that it would be difficult for them because of the attitudes of US farmers.
Helen Dalley: So this may be the trade pay-off because we're part of the coalition of the willing?
Alan Oxley: I think it'd be a mistake to say that we're going into Iraq in order to get the pay-off. The two are independent, but I think very plainly there is a sympathy.
Helen Dally: But do you think it does help that we're in he military alliance? Id this a kind of pay-off?
Allan Oxley: It'll be a pay-off yes.
extract from How To Kill A Country - Australia's Devastating Trade Deal With The United States by Linda Weiss, Elizabeth Thurbon and John Mathews (Allen & Unwin)
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