The Guardian November 20, 2002


Editorial:

Trade based on mutual benefit and respect

As part of a free trade agreement (FTA) with Australia the US is seeking 
agreement from Australia to remove any laws or regulations that might 
restrict or disadvantage the exports of US transnational corporations to 
Australia. They include Australian labelling laws regarding genetically 
modified products; quarantine regulations that restrict the import of 
agricultural products including chicken, pork, Florida oranges, and stoned 
fruits; and the lifting of all tariffs on clothing and textile imports.

The use of the term "free trade agreement" is misleading to say the least, 
as one of the main focuses in negotiations will be on the services sector. 
Free trade in services means the lifting of all restrictions and controls 
over foreign investment. in practice this means corporate control of the 
provision of water, electricity, telecommunications, education, health and 
other services.

The aim is to remove Australia's remaining restrictions on foreign 
investment and monopoly control over media, telecommunications, airlines, 
banking, etc. One of the demands of the US is for the removal of the 
Foreign Investment Review Board as part of the Government's abandonment of 
its power to veto major foreign investments and control.

For example, the recent decision by the Australian Competition and Consumer 
Commission to allow the sharing of programs between Optus and Foxtel pay-TV 
opens the way to further winding back of restrictions on monopoly control 
and ownership of the media. Cross media ownership, foreign ownership, local 
content and all the other rules that stand in the way of complete 
domination of the media by one or two magnates will be abolished if the 
proposed FTA goes ahead.

Australia has strict quarantine rules, which have a sound scientific basis. 
Their main purpose is not to keep competitors out, as the US would suggest. 
It is vital that the Australian Government retain and exercise its powers 
to impose strict quarantine regulations, labelling and packaging 
requirements, health and safety standards, and do whatever is necessary to 
protect the environment and the interests of the people.

The stakes are high. The future of our agricultural sector, health, safety 
and the environment are at risk if the transnational corporations get their 
way: to take-over and assume the role of elected governments.

History shows that it is always the smaller countries who open up their 
economies and surrender their sovereignty to their detriment. Despite 
Australia's first-world status, an agreement between Australia and the US 
would be no exception: government regulations would be replaced by the 
diktat of US transnational corporations.

The US is simultaneously pursuing agreements with Australia, southeast 
Asian, Latin American and African countries. It is using negotiations with 
Australia as a lever to draw other countries into similar agreements. At 
the same time it is using the threat of other possible agreements to 
extract as much as it can from Australia. The alternative is presented as 
Australia being shut out of a supposed trade bonanza as the US and its 
partners transfer trade to countries with which they have agreements.

This is part of a trade process based on domination, bullying and the use 
of brute force. The big Western powers are experiencing increasing 
difficulty in enforcing their policies on the people of the world. At 
Seattle, Doha, Prague, Geneva, Melbourne and Sydney the voice of the people 
demanding a real alternative has been heard loud and clear.

The pursuit of bilateral and other regional agreements is being used to 
draw more countries into the "globalisation" agenda as dictated by the 
major transnational corporations of the Western powers. Rather it 
complements the work of the WTO, IMF and World Bank and offers another 
route to the same goal.

Australia has a choice: sign on with the USA and the WTO or join the 
growing movement of peoples and governments that are taking a stand against 
global domination and exploitation by US imperialism. There is an 
alternative to the FTA and WTO agreements  a system of trade and foreign 
investment based on mutual benefit and respect.
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