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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 19991


Mr ADAMS (1:20 PM) —I have some major concerns about the extent and rate of these free trade arrangements. We have important relationships with Japan and China; we also have relationships with many other countries in South-East Asia. However, I cannot condone using free trade as an argument for going into developing countries and opening up trade when the only people who benefit are the financial institutions of developed countries. I think we really have to come to some break and start working out how to measure the success of the so-called global economy and the accompanying free trade to find out who is actually benefiting. The front page of the Australian today shows there is conflict. The headline says: `Trade talks teeter on rich-poor divide'. Roy Eccleston points out in his article that much of the discontent about the extent of agricultural trade reform is based on the dispute between rich and poor countries. Poor countries are claiming that it would give them little new access to the rich world's agricultural markets, while demanding they open up their markets to subsidised competition.

When the World Bank and the IMF were born in 1944 and established in December 1945, it was to provide resources to rebuild after the Second World War—to fund postwar reconstruction and development projects and to lend hard currency to nations with temporary balance of payments difficulties. In the 1980s things changed: Third World nations sought help from those two bodies after the price of oil skyrocketed and there were huge interest rate rises. But instead of dollars they received structural assistance plans, with 114 conditions in return for loans. While the details varied from nation to nation, in every case the rollover of debts was conditional on countries removing trade barriers, selling national assets to foreign investors, slashing social spending and making labour flexible—for example, by bringing down wage rates to almost starvation level. I thank author and journalist Greg Palast for simplifying that useful base argument.

When we talk of free trade, we talk of the interests of bodies such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation, groups of unelected people who decide which countries get aid, who make the trading conditions in those developing countries that are desperate for assistance and who wish to ensure the flow of capital around the world through these free market mechanisms. Where is the level playing field that we all talk about when referring to free trade? From my reading, there seems to be only one playing field and it is tipped to ensure all funds run one way—into the coffers of Western financial institutions.

Japan and China, who are big and quite powerful in different ways, want a piece of that action. What are we actually seeking from them in the way of an agreement? This motion does not specify. It uses motherhood terms, without any measurement whatsoever. Where, for example, are the `massive economic and social benefits ... to all parties' of genuine free trade with both China and Japan? Where is the evidence of this? The honourable member for Flinders quoted many figures—$4 billion et cetera—that we hear in this debate but no measurable situations. Who has set this `international free trade agenda understanding that bilateral free trade agreements can complement and encourage wider free trade objectives in APEC and the WTO'? There is nothing in this motion that backs up that statement. If I had more time, I could give heaps of examples of where free trade does anything but push for global economic prosperity, improve living standards and provide greater opportunities for the developing world. It almost works, or has worked, in reverse in some countries.

It is vital for Australia to build relationships with countries in our region, including China and Japan. Labor went to China last year and proposed a closer economic relationships agreement. Simon Crean did that long before the Prime Minister went there. This government has certainly taken its eyes off the ball. When you look at what is occurring in Mexico, you see it missed the opportunity. Its obsession with negotiating a bilateral trade deal with the United States has diverted its focus away from realising that there were a lot of other things going on. It should have been focused on India and the poor countries. It has lost its opportunity to be a part of that developing world group. (Time expired)