Modia Minotaur

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

The US FTA - Free for Who?

One year on, and - surprise, surprise - the US Free Trade Agreement is looking like a distinctly dodgy deal for Australia (extensive arguments as to exactly why are available at The Evatt Institute's website). Remember the claptrap we heard about what a marvellous boon it would be for Australian trade? Can anyone name a single major tangible benefit that has flowed from the deal in the past year? Anybody? Anybody? Even the government concedes that it's been a fizzer, but blame the stronger currency and increased competition from Asia. Which is dreadfully ironic, folks, given that since Australia hopped off the sheep's back, the only ride it can catch is the bullet train known as the Chinese resources boom ... ever heard the one about having the cake and eating it too?

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre has gone so far as to call for the FTA to be entirely revised or even scrapped altogether, via the 6 month escape clause written in to the deal. Well, the good news is that the government is apparently considering at least the former idea, with Trade Minister Mark Vaile agreeing to discuss changes to the FTA in a meeting in Washington in March. Naturally, those who missed out the first time round - sugar growers in particular - have welcomed the news.

The bad news - the really incredibly stupid idiotic news - is that it looks like all they want to do is take out the only bits that benefited Australia - the Labor backed amendments to protect the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme by penalising `evergreening' - a practice in which drug companies stall the release of cheaper generic versions of popular drugs. Whereas whatever advantages Australia can derive from the US FTA have not become obvious in the past year, it only took a matter of months for the PBS to be undermined, with the prices of four drugs increased beyond the PBS subsidised price. This will make it difficult for US drug companies to prove their claim that the amendment is costing them money.

Seeing this amendment lost would be devastating for three reasons. Firstly, though I didn't agree with Labor's acceptance of the FTA, Mark Latham's deft handling of the whole issue was a wonder to behold and a demonstration of what an amazingly skilled politician he once was. Secondly, as someone who relies on one of those four higher-than-PBS-priced medications to live a normal life, let me tell you that it is no fun at all to hand over a large proportion of your hard-earned on medicine every month. Should the PBS disintegrate, I have absolutely no doubt that some Australians would find themselves in the appalling situation of having to decide between buying food and buying essential medications - not only life saving drugs, but such things as anti-psychotics. That's not the Australia I want to live in.

And thirdly ... is there anything a Howard Government with a Senate can't do ...


At 6:28 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldnt find any primary sources for those figures from DFAT. It would be interesting to know which industries were the winners and losers from the FTA, and whether those industries were given an advantage/disadvantage care of the FTA.

DFAT needs to get its arse in gear and offer primary data.


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