How to kill a country

That’s the title of a book-length denunciation of the US-Australia FTA, by Linda Weiss, Elizabeth Thurbon and John Mathews, published by Allen & Unwin. A lot of the material will be familiar to readers of this blog, but there is an interesting chapter on quarantine. It makes the point that our quarantine laws have been successfully defended in the WTO (far from friendly to any sort of restriction on trade) but will now be subject to unaccountable bilateral processes with the US, very similar to the situation with the PBS. Even if you regard the title as a little too apocalyptic, it’s clear that this is a terrible agreement from Australia’s point of view and that, if it falls over on the issue of pharmaceuticals, that would be a very good thing.

15 thoughts on “How to kill a country

  1. I friend recently asked me what I thought of a Free Trade Agreement with the US. I replied (following Gandhi’s answer to a similar question on western civilisation) that I thought it would be a good idea.

  2. Linda Weiss and Elizabeth Thurbon attracted fireworks at the Senate Committee hearings into the FTA, according to the transcripts. It seemed to start with one Senator taking umbrage at the explicit claim in their submission that they were “experts.” It went downhill from there, with the Senator questioning their suitability to hold posts at universities.

    Based on their submission at the time, and the general level of contribution to the Inquiry, I think the Senator had a point.

  3. I managed to leave the room just before the fireworks started. From the transcripts, it was pretty lively.

  4. I have a confession to make – I was hoping to get some free insights on this book from JQ and commenters, because I am currently doing a review of it. I am in two minds about what to say – on the one hand I think that the authors raise a number of valid issues with the FTA; on the other, I think they take their polemic too far: the book is so one-sided that it actually undermines their argument overall. John, if you’ve had a chance to read it through, what do you think overall?

  5. I can provide some comments based on my reading of Weiss and Thurbon’s earlier work and the promotional material for the book, including a sample chapter.

    The book seems a reasonable summary of the sceptic’s view of the FTA, but is obviously partisan. This is a pity. The book would have been a good opportunity to present both sides and examine them fairly. The FTA is more complicated than it first appears.

    I notice the book’s blurb continues the arrogance that attracted the ire of the Senate Committee. It describes the authors as “leading policy analysts,” which is not justified.

    In intellectual property, an area I examined closely, Weiss and Thurbon seem to have simply accepted the claims of anti-copyright activists, without critical analysis. For a debunking, see my submission.

    Also, a book such as this should have been aware of and discussed the absence of provisions for movement of natural persons, which is significant. Such provisions more than anything will harm local workforces, and are an important feature of most modern FTA’s. They are present in the Australia Thai FTA and will certainly feature in forthcoming FTA’s with India and other Asian nations. They were originally in the Australia US FTA but, when American Congress found out, were removed to protect American workers. Congress was furious with Zoellick over this.

  6. Stephen, I agree with your assessment. Valid concerns, but a bit OTT, as indicated by the title. I think the FTA is an exceptionally bad deal as trade deals go, but that doesn’t mean it will be “devastating”.

  7. Tony Healy should get his facts right about our book before rushing to attack us. He says that we “should have been aware of and discussed the absence of provisions for movement of natural persons, which is significant.” Too bad for Tony that we did indeed discuss this significant point, since it was one of the few points where Australia made a demand that was point-blank refused by the Americans. Our discussion is contained on p. 13, in the Introduction. Apparently Tony H. didn’t even get this far in actually reading the book.

    Tony H. is well known to the open source community as a pest. For an insight into his contributions, see the web discussion:,39024650,39129645,00.htm

    John Mathews

  8. Thanks for that insightful comment, John. My views on intellectual property have previously been discussed here.

  9. John, based on your comment above, you don’t seem to understand what happened with movement of natural persons. That provision was in an early draft of the FTA, or else intended to be, and it was inserted or sought by the US Trade Rep on behalf of business interests. American Congress then demanded that it be removed.

    Your comment suggests you saw it as a battle between America and Australia, which is wrong. It was a battle between big business and workers, won by workers.

  10. You have also got the pest factor round the wrong way. What you point to is a ZD Net publication of my
    Senate submission
    . As a result of that publication, I was subject to generally ill-informed abuse and a threat of violence, highlighting the almost frightening intolerance of open source zealots. If you are interested in what I have to say, you could also read this piece for a US think tank.

    Both papers are factual and fully referenced. The Senate submission identifies misrepresentations made by the open source movement in the course of the FTA debate. The think tank publication points out that open source is a nebulous term, and that proper consideration of the issue needs to identify exactly what is being promoted by activists.

  11. John Mathews, I have read your book. Your page 13 discussion merely refers to migration of executives in the investment section. Nowhere do you mention movement of natural persons, its removal by American Congress in opposition to the US FTA negotiators, or the significance of this. The exchange you mention in footnote 15 further indicates that neither you nor Senator Adams understands this issue.

    The lack of objectivity in the book is quite funny. I laughed out loud when I read the following on page 60: “We wish to be clear-eyed in our appraisal of the evidence. It is easy to adopt a stance of ‘bashing’ multinational pharmas and indeed, they invite such abuse with their unsavoury and often fraudulent practises …”

    On pages 134-135 you’ve misrepresented the stance of the OECD report on patents and innovation. You create the impression the report warns against IP rights extensions and you falsely claim it advocates government support for open source software, when it doesn’t. What it says is that the patent system is working fine and there’s no problems in licensing of biotechnology patents. [OECD 2004: 23] It points out that patents seem to encourage innovation by enhancing market entry and firm creation, by helping small companies defend their work against larger companies and by helping new firms obtain finance. [OECD 2004: 9] How to Kill a Country mentions none of this.

    I was also correct that you simply repeat the propaganda of open source activists, without any critical analysis. On page 135 you represent that the IP provisions are the work of evil Microsoft and that they: “stand directly in the way of Australia developing its own software industry.” No, they don’t. Strong intellectual property protections help innovative Australian firms grow and compete against multinationals. Read my paper for more background. The moves you advocate would create a nation of low-skill computer installers, kill IP-based firms, and open the floodgates even further to foreign outsourcer firms like IBM, EDS and Infosys.

    On page 150 you whinge that opponents of the FTA are intimidated, ridiculed and mocked. Yet, above, you call me a “pest.” Tell me, also, in reading the web comments you point to, who is being intimidated?

    I will refrain from a concluding comment, as I respect the aims of Weiss and Thurbon.

    * OECD, 2004, Patents and Innovation: Trends and Policy Challenges. Paris: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development

  12. I have just finished reading ‘How to kill a country’
    I really feel that the country has been let down by all sides, and as usual debate ends up in name calling and ridicule. There has been very little reasoned debate to explain to the public what is going on.
    Is it sensible to think that the BIG US will be giving us an agreement which is a win win situation. Does their current history suggest this?
    January is the implemetation date. No time left really.
    I have on hand Gov hand outs, which all read like motherhood statements.
    Pat Kirkman

  13. I would like to make a point about the Howard govenment’s very deep (by Australian standards) ideological bent and the geopolitical timing of the FTA. The Clinton administration was offering the possibility of a trade deal in 1997 but the Howard Government knocked it back on that basis that it was not in Australia’s interests. It’s my understanding that that deal was generally better than the one we’ve just signed up to with such unashamed haste. To me the answer to this lies in exactly the same ideological territory as Howards instinctive and uncritical support for the US war on Iraq. To put it simple the Howard government’s signing off on the FTA agreement is ideologically driven (Labour’s signing off was driven by their fear of losing the election in the same way that they supported Howard’s approach to asylum seekers three years ago). It has much less to do with the long term economic interests of Australia and everything to do with Howards vision of long term “security” of an Australia who’s closest neighboor is the largest Islamic nation on the planet. The FTA is a poor trade agreement and I think that Howard may see that as secondary to the secutrity spin offs. He is more interested in the “special relationship” being fostered than with any economic issue. This is evidenced in the closer military ties that are clearly apparent in recent times. There will be some who scoff at the idea of Howard as being more of a political animal than an economic one but his recent “pork barrelling” behaviour in the election campaign shows his true colours. Howard’s later years are much more charcterised by political and geopolitical ideology than by any holding fast to the rational economics of his early and middle years. His rejection of an AUS-USA trade deal in 1997 and an embracing of a very poor FTA with Bush post Sept 11 is more about Howard’s geopolitical hopes for Australia than his economic vision for this country. Howard wants us to be much more tied up with and dependent on the political, economic and military interests of the US. He looks at the dangers that Linda Weiss, Elizabeth Thurbon and John Mathews identify and sees in them only benefits that flow from a “closer” relationship.That’s why Howard’s signed up to this poor deal.

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