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The Free Trade Agreement is about securing our trading future

By Alan Oxley - posted Tuesday, 17 February 2004

The importance of the free trade agreement with the United States is in what it means for Australia's future, not its past.

Complaints that it does not secure greater access for sugar growers were more important in the past, when most of Australia's exports were agricultural. But this has not been the case for several decades.

Australia's future lies in the global growth sectors - manufacturing and services in particular. In today's world, investment is as important for growth as trade. It will be more important in the future.


Investment is the vehicle that delivers new technology. State premiers know this. Steve Bracks competes with Bob Carr, Peter Beattie and Mike Rann each year to attract US investment in new technology industries in Victoria. Sugar and beef might be big industries in Queensland, but Beattie has pegged its future to being the "smart state".

That is indeed the future, and the US is the font of new technology, adaptation and innovation. Telecommunications, finance, transport, retailing and distribution are the industries where change is greatest.

The information revolution is in full swing, but where we are today is just the beginning. It is a safe bet that the US will continue to be at the leading edge of change.

When it comes to business and technology, Australia cannot afford to be anywhere except cheek by jowl with the US. If Australian business sets its reference points to US standards, it will continue to create jobs and prosperity for Australians and be able to succeed in any market in the world. If it lags behind, it will not succeed.

The FTA makes it easier for business to work in each economy. It will expand investment. Some say this will mean more foreign investment. Precisely - and that's a good thing. Does Geelong, the Ford town, think foreign investment is bad? Did we not want General Motors to build a world-class engine plant in Melbourne?

The FTA allows most new investment from the US to be automatically approved, and guarantees that US companies will be treated equally with Australian companies. And it gives the same rights to Australian business in the US.


BlueScope Steel, Rosemount Wines, CSL, Foster's and BHP Billiton all have major investments in the US. So do most Australian superannuation funds, which are vital to the retirement future of most Australian workers. The FTA will protect those investments from discriminatory treatment by authorities at state and county government level in the US.

The agreement also gives the lie to claims the US will never open its agricultural markets. Over 20 years, the agreement will see an increase in farm exports to the US of about $1 billion in beef and dairy products. It was a pity more access could not be won for sugar. But the agreement should not hinge on that.

Some silly claims have been made about the FTA; for example that Australian workers will lose jobs. The agreement will increase jobs. It gives security of access to exports of automobiles, beef and wine, allowing steady expansion of export markets and growth in business and jobs.

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This article was first published in The Age on 10 February 2004.

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About the Author

Alan Oxley is the former ambassador to the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs and Chairman of the Australian APEC Studies Centre.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Alan Oxley
Related Links
APEC Study Centre
Free Trade Agreement - US perspective
Free Trde Agreement - Australian perspective
Havachat: The US-Aust FTA - free, fair or foolish?
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