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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26223


Senator NETTLE (8:40 PM) —The Australian Greens oppose schedule 1 in the following terms:

(2) Schedule 1, item 8, page 26 (lines 7 to 25), omit section 214BAF, to be opposed.

We have already established during this discussion that the US-Australia free trade agreement will prevent current and future governments from regulating in the public interest. It will stop governments from protecting and nurturing Australian industries, such as culture, manufacturing and IT now and into the future. It will give US corporations and the US government disproportionate power and influence over Australia's economy, society, culture and environment. US big business, the pharmaceutical companies, agribusiness and manufacturing, will have a field day. They will be able to use the text of the Australia-US free trade agreement to demolish hard-won protections for Australian farmers and manufacturers. An example of this is in chapter 5 of the agreement on textiles, clothing, footwear and rules of origin.

While Australia is moving to zero tariffs for textiles, clothing and footwear as a result of the free trade agreement, the United States has kept its complex rules of origin which will prevent Australian textile, clothing and footwear manufacturers from qualifying for zero tariff exports to the United States. An example is the yarn forward rule which exists in the United States and which will not be impacted on or changed as a result of the free trade agreement. The yarn forward rule allows for the make-up of garments overseas, as long as the home country made the fabric or the yarn that is used. Since up to 80 per cent of Australia's textile and clothing industry sources its yarn from Asia, the majority of our industry will not be able to qualify for tariff-free status into the United States. The yarn forward rule also exists under and is maintained by the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. Singapore thought it had done well with its agreement, but then it could not get tariff-free status because of the yarn forward rule. Now it does not even bother to apply for tariff-free status; instead, it closed the tariff.

In opposing schedule 1 of the bill I want to talk not so much about the yarn forward rule but about how it is enforced in the agreement. Incredibly, this and other rules and non-tariff barriers set up by the United States in the TCF industry will be enforced in Australia by United States Customs officers. Item 8 of the bill proposes inserting a new section into the legislation dealing with the power to monitor and audit the US-Australia free trade agreement. It sets up powers for Australian free trade agreement verification officers. These officers have powers to search premises, take photographs and make sketches. The free trade agreement verification officers have the power to inspect, examine, count, measure, weigh, gauge, test or analyse and take samples of anything on a premises that they enter to search. They can inspect any document or record on the premises. They can take extracts from and make copies of any document or record on the premises. They have the power to take into the premises any equipment or material that they deem necessary for carrying out their duties. They have the power to test and operate record keeping, accounting, computing and other operating systems. They have the power to use equipment, they have the power to remove documents and they have the power to remove disks. They have the power to ask questions and to ask for assistance. They also have the power to disclose information to the United States Customs officials who are with them.

The Customs officials section of the free trade agreement—clause 214BAF in the implementing legislation—allows for US Customs officials to accompany Australia-US free trade agreement verification officers when they enter premises. It allows for our verifications officers to be accompanied by one or more US Customs officials at the time. This amendment removes the power of US Customs officials to be able to enter premises with FTA verification officers. I would like to ask the minister whether, in the trade agreement that has gone through the US Congress, similar arrangements have been made for Australian Customs officers to enter the premises of United States industries in order to verify their compliance with the free trade agreement.