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Free trade means free movement

By Joel Butler - posted Tuesday, 10 June 2008


One would have to assume that migration from any of these countries to Australia is significantly more appealing than from Poland to the UK. Income levels in the UK were about five times higher than in Poland in 2006: Australian income levels were about 18 times more than in China, 25 times more than in Indonesia and almost 44 times more than in India.

China’s population in 2006 was 1,311 million, Indonesia’s was 225 million and India’s was 1,121 million - a total of 2.657 billion people. Using the very crude equivalent measure of Poles moving to the UK after its accession to the EU with these figures, an EU-type organisation that included Australia and these three Asian countries (leaving aside all the other proposed members) would see a migration to Australia of about 21.256 million people. Australia’s population in 2006 was only 20.6 million.

The EU worked because of a rough (even very rough) homogeneity of income levels, economic development, a lack or relative discrepancies in demographic distribution between rich and poor countries, and because it required a minimum level of political homogeneity.

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The Asia-Pacific region has none of these things and it will take many more than 12 years to develop them.

There is no doubt that greater co-operation at an economic level, through the negotiation and implementation of sensible trade, labour and services agreements would benefit Australia as well as regional neighbours, but the implementation of an “EU-like” model (unless it wasn’t like the EU model at all!) would simply not benefit this country.

Perhaps Mr Rudd didn’t mean he thought an EU-like model was a good one for the Asia Pacific region. (In his speech to the Asia Society Australasia Centre in Sydney he said “The European Union of course does not represent an identikit model of what we would seek to develop in the Asia Pacific …”) But if that was the case - where free movement of goods services and people is the backbone of the EU system - what did he mean?

Perhaps the Prime Minister was speaking from a position of ignorance - he simply didn’t know how the “EU model” works. But if Mr Rudd did mean what he said, it is clearly of concern to us all.

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About the Author

Joel Butler is a Postgraduate Fellow in the Faculty of Law at Bond University in Queensland.

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