"Free trade" or "mutual benefit" trade?
Prime Minister Howard sounded almost revolutionary as he castigated the US and its President over the imposition of tariffs on Australia's lamb exports to the US. "Hypocritical", "appalling" and "unfair" were some of his adjectives. It is unlikely that when, face to face with the US President this week, he will use such undiplomatic language. Rather, he would give the President a lecture about making a public commitment to push "free trade" at the forthcoming World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting. As for Clinton, having imposed tariffs it is completely within his nature to talk from both sides of his mouth and make a public declaration on the US's commitment to "free trade". The Prime Minister will not voice any disagreement with other aspects of US policy — such as its aggression against Yugoslavia or its interference in the affairs of other countries. US bases in Australia will be just as secure as before. The long-term US political, economic and military policies will stay and receive the unquestioning support of the Australian PM. The US action against Australian exports, however, only goes to show once again that when the chips are down, the US looks after its own interests irrespective of alliances, international agreements and what might have been said or promised on other occasions. Mark Vaile, Howard's Minister for Trade, has joined the chorus with a lecture to others about "catching up with Australia" and demands that others grant "greater market access for our producers". The use of tariffs, subsidies and other protective mechanisms such as quotas, are typical methods used by capitalist economies to regulate trade and protect domestic industries. All of these methods result in raising prices to the consumer but they can be used to defend jobs. "Free trade" is being strongly pushed by the big corporations because it permits them to undercut domestic manufacturers or growers, to drive them out of business or take them over. "Free trade" is really anarchy and the law of the jungle by which the stronger drive all others to the wall and into bankruptcy, and workers workers are left on the scrap heap. A struggle between "free trade" and "protectionism" has waxed and waned in Australia for the whole of the present century. One of the early political parties in Australia went by the name of "Free Trade" and won over 35 per cent of the vote in the 1901 elections. The alternative to these methods of trade is the adoption of the principle of "mutual benefit". "Mutual benefit" trade means that the buying and selling of goods between countries is carried on with an eye to the benefit of both countries — not just one. It means the widespread use of trade agreements which set out the terms and conditions and quantities of goods to be bought and sold. It introduces a planned approach to trade and industry development. It involves the public ownership of major trading organisations so that the national interest can be effectively protected while taking into account the interests of a trade partner. There is another important aspect to the Howard Government's response to the US tariffs. The PM immediately announced that the Government would compensate lamb producers for the losses that they might incur. An amount of $5-10 million has been promised to compensate for the impact of US tariffs — expected to cause an income loss of up to 10 per cent of the $100 million market. Compare the alacrity with which the Government compensates lamb producers who stand to lose up to ten per cent of their income, with the absolute neglect of the workers who have been thrown out of work by employers and stand to lose all of their entitlements. An estimated $30 million is owed to workers recently thrown out of their jobs. There are no promises for them from the Howard Government and, so far, no legislation has been produced by the Government to force employers to provide for such circumstances. Some of these workers will receive absolutely nothing because the employing companies or the "labour hire" outfits used have been "asset stripped", leaving nothing. This out and out robbery has no priority as far as the Howard Government is concerned.Back to index page