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February 14th, 2004

Australia makes a rare appearance on the Op-Ed page of the NYT with an editorial denouncing the Free Trade Agreement and observing

The deal with Australia is a huge setback in the process of liberalizing global agricultural trade. Poor nations whose only viable exports are agricultural goods are hampered by excessive protectionism. And by making a deal with Australia that leaves out sugar, Washington has jeopardized chances for meaningful progress on a hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas, and the latest round of negotiations at the World Trade Organization. As part of this effort to lower trade barriers, developing countries are rightly insisting that rich nations stop subsidizing their farmers and open up their markets to competition.

The agreement sends a chilling message to the rest of the world. Even when dealing with an allied nation with similar living standards, the administration, under pressure from the Congress, has opted to continue coddling the sugar lobby, rather than dropping the most indefensible form of protectionism. This will only embolden the case of those around the world who argue that globalization is a rigged game.

A few observations on this. First, as the editorial notes, the exclusion of sugar from the deal is bad for the US as well as for Australia.

The NYT’s negative view of the deal is echoed by US and international commentators across the spectrum including The Singapore Straits Times, The Miami Herald, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the Washington Post (reproduced in the Oz). The only favorable comment from outside Australia I’ve been able to find is one also reproduced by the Oz from the Christian Science Monitor, which has no comment on the content of the deal and treats the whole thing as a continuation of the Iraq war.

Finally, I’d like to remind those who still seem to be supporting the deal that all Australians will pay for the failure to hold the line on sugar, in the form of more distorting and inefficient bribes to the sugar industry and yet more ethanol crony capitalism.

A surprising number of commentators have made the claim that only anti-US or anti-government motives could explain opposition to such a deal. The (nearly) universally negative reception it has received outside Australia suggests the opposite – only partisans of the government or those who advocate unconditional compliance with the wishes of the US Administration could support it, once they have examined all the evidence (The fact that the details are still secret, and that the summaries released in the two countries differed radically is, of course, evidence in itself).

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  1. gordon
    February 14th, 2004 at 18:31 | #1

    Quite fortuitously I came across an old press clipping (AFR 6/11/95, p.7) yesterday in which DFAT is reported as lamenting cuts to Australian exports to the US. Sugar exports are reported to have been cut by two thirds since 1992, and changes to “rules of origin” are reported as impacting on Australian wool and clothing exports to the US in a way apparently contrary to “the bilateral package of market access liberalisation which Australia negotiated with the US as part of the Uruguay Round”. Obviously there is a historical dimension here which other commenters might be able to enlarge on. Maybe there is a tide in the affairs of trade which, taken at the flood, leads on to headlines?

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