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Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement.



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Mark Latham Leader of the Opposition

Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement

Mark Latham - Federal Labor Leader and Stephen Conroy - Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Shadow Minister for Trade, Shadow Minister for Corporate Governance and Financial Services

Media Statement - 3 August 2004

Throughout this year, Labor has said that we would judge the Howard Government's trade agreement with the United States on the evidence: is it a net plus or minus for Australia?

This is why we referred the matter to a Senate Committee for thorough examination - to consider all the facts and arguments and reach a conclusion in the national interest.

This was the right approach. The Agreement doesn't come into force until next year, and we have a duty to the Australian people to make a considered decision.

The Senate Committee process also allowed the Australian people to have their say about the FTA.

Labor has reached the following conclusions:

• The Howard Government could have achieved a better deal for Australia if it had pushed harder at the negotiating table, especially for our farmers. • Despite several flaws in the Agreement, it has net economic benefits for Australia and, on this basis, should be supported. • Expert economist, Phillippa Dee, has estimated the benefits at $53 million a

year. Over time, the Agreement will allow Australia to establish closer economic relations and integration with the world's largest economy with increased two-way investment flows. This will be of long term benefit to Australia. • Labor's policy preference is for multilateral trade liberalisation via the World

Trade Organisation. Nonetheless, this bilateral agreement will increase access to US manufacturing, agricultural, services and government procurement markets. • Throughout the examination and debate surrounding the FTA, Labor has

raised a number of concerns about its social impact. Some of these matters have been addressed as more information has become available. The FTA is a 'living agreement' and it will continue to develop overtime. • Labor Senators on the Senate FTA committee made a number of recommendations to improve the implementation of the Agreement. Drawing on these recommendations, Labor will put forward safeguard amendments to

the enabling legislation in the Senate to ensure the FTA does not undermine the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and the existing local content rules.

These legislative amendments will be consistent with the text of the FTA and address concerns that have been raised about the PBS and cultural content rules. Labor will fight for amendments to:

• Protect the PBS by preventing and penalising drug companies that try to stop cheaper generic drugs coming onto the market by lodging dodgy patent claims. The validity of patent claims would be determined by a court; and

• Allay concern about any future reductions in local content for free to air television, pay television and radio - an amendment to legislate the current local content standards.

If successful at the next election, Labor will introduce a package of further measures responding to concerns expressed about the FTA. This policy package is outlined in Attachment A.

On balance, we believe this approach maximises Australia's national interest - reaping the economic benefits but safeguarding fundamental social policies. This has not been a straightforward or easy decision. Far from it. Judging the evidence in complex areas of public policy takes time and consideration.

We have made a decision in Australia's best interests and also fulfilled our obligations as a responsible Opposition - scrutinising legislation and improving outcomes for this country.