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So, what difference will the Free Trade Agreement actually make to our lives?

By Jane Drake-Bockman - posted Tuesday, 17 February 2004

The Free Trade Agreement with the United States will change, at least at the margins, the direction of the next generation's lives. Culturally and economically.

It will not necessarily cut, at least not quickly, the prices we pay for goods and services in Australia. But it will probably alter, relatively quickly, the range and mix of consumer products and services available.

Where we have offered concessions to US companies that we do not give to firms from other geographic sources, we will see some gradual displacement in favour of US products in our supermarkets.


Where US firms are more efficient than ours, we will also see some gradual displacement of domestic firms. This will lead to new pressures for government assistance with the process of structural adjustment. Pressures of this kind will hit fastest in the digital content industries (such as audiovisual services and electronic games), where the outlook for local content is already uncertain.

The agreement is a signal to all sectors of the economy to adjust with the times; unless they are world's best practice, they will come under increased competitive pressure. This is because, whatever the agreement does or does not deliver on Day One, it does provide a platform for the continued pursuit, over the decades, of US commercial interests in our sensitive and protected sectors.

Equally, it provides a process for Australia's own continued pursuit of greater access to the American market, for example, in financial or professional services or government contract work.

Importantly, the agreement involves a significant and welcome liberalisation of Australia's foreign investment regime. The Government sensibly appears to be ready to implement this liberalisation in a non-discriminatory manner - for all investors, not only those from America. This will undoubtedly boost productivity in this country.

New job opportunities should open up in all sorts of foreign affiliates and subsidiaries which will now be able to establish themselves more readily in Australia.

So what does all this mean in concrete terms for the next generation of Australians? My five-year-old already speaks like a Power Ranger. All his toys, however, including his Power Rangers, are made in China. What is going to change?


Most of the toys will probably still come from China. We will, however, see some new North American products and services arrive on the market - Santa might put an American cotton T-shirt in his Christmas stocking this year.

My five-year-old prefers Playschool to Sesame Street. His children will have fewer Australian and more American programs to choose from over the years. But Australians will presumably continue to express political will to retain some local content so the next generation remembers that K is for Koala and not for Kansas.

My teenagers, meanwhile, are now more likely than before to study in the US. They are more likely to get jobs with US affiliates in Australia and more likely to explore job opportunities in America.

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This article was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald on February 10 2004.

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About the Author

Jane Drake-Brockman is executive director of the Australian Services Roundtable. The views expressed are personal and do not reflect or represent the views of the Roundtable membership.

Related Links
Australian Services Roundtable
Free Trade Agreement - Australian perspective
Free Trade Agreement - US perspective
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