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Ad-hoc bilateral trade agreements could be at expense of fairer world trade.

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Senator Aden Ridgeway Australian Democrats Trade and Overseas Development Spokesperson

22 October 2003 MEDIA RELEASE 03/769

Ad-hoc Bilateral Trade Agreements Could Be At Expense of Fairer World Trade

The proposed Free Trade Agreement with China shows the Howard Government has given up on the multilateral process for world trade, say the Australian Democrats.

Democrats’ Trade and Overseas Development spokesperson, Senator Aden Ridgeway, said this latest development with China shows the Government has no interest in putting any real effort into the multilateral arena.

“While the WTO process may be flawed, it remains the only forum that can achieve outcomes for the whole world,” said Senator Ridgeway.

“The failure of the WTO talks in Cancun last month demonstrates a need for real commitment on the part of the world’s trading nations to make good on the promises of the Doha Round.

“Instead, we see nations such as the USA and Australia choosing to focus instead on exclusive bilateral deals with particular nations.

“These agreements cannot go as far in scope as WTO negotiations - as they cannot deal with the problematic question of agricultural subsidies - and can potentially harm our interests with other trading partners.

“The Government’s Foreign Affairs and Trade White Paper, Advancing the National Interest, clearly signals the preference for bilateral initiatives at the expense of multilateral ones.

“Negotiating a Free Trade Agreement is costly, time-consuming and resource-intensive.

“Focussing Australia’s limited resources into bilateral trade negotiations at the expense of efforts in the multilateral arena is short-sighted and will result in second-rate trade outcomes.

“Just as with the proposed USFTA, Australia could stand to gain very little from an FTA with China.

“The Chinese economy is three times the size of the Australian economy and Australia experiences a merchandise trade deficit of $5 billion with China, which demonstrates an imbalance in trade between the two countries, particularly with respect to the textiles, clothing and footwear industries.

“The Australian Government also needs to have a policy of ensuring basic human rights and labour standards as a condition of any trade agreements,” concluded Senator Ridgeway.

Contact: Liz Willis 0417 410 506