Thursday, August 03, 2006

Shooting the FTA messenger

Ever since the Australian government announced the Free Trade Agreement with the USA, it has made an effort to paint any opposition to it in shades of anti-American bias.

The reality is that Australia's diplomatic corps went to the USA likes Amish into a crack-house: innocent, naive and ripe for victimization. We were convinced (by which I mean our ministers were suffering from a bad case of wishful thinking) that Australia's "special relationship" with the US -- we were one of only a handful of countries that backed the USA's unprovoked invasion of Iraq -- would ensure we got a special deal in the FTA negotiations. The reality was, we got a kick to the guts, and then thanked the US for it.

The Australian government still insists that opposition to the FTA is based on anti-Americanism. It isn't: it is on pro-Australian. The US Congress negotiated hard for the best possible deal for their nation. We went in like simpering innocents, negotiated barely a whit, and made it obvious to the hard-nosed US negotiators that we'd be pathetically grateful for any bones the US might throw our way. Having stuck their reputation on this FTA, the government is in denial of the fact that what we were given with the left hand was taken away five times over with the right.

The head of the Australian National University, Vice-chancellor Professor Ian Chubb, has been quoted as saying that there is an attempt to silence academics who released a study of the FTA which reveals that the results have been harmful to Australia.

The FTA is a commercial agreement between the USA and Australia. If it does more harm than good, if it is a bad deal, then either country can legally withdraw from it. (In fact, one of the reasons it is such a bad deal for Australia is that the US can selectively withdraw from it's promises to us, while forcing us to stick to a "take it or leave it" offer.) But, if the anti-Australia pro-FTA people get their way, by halting research into the economic effect of the FTA, or by selectively ignoring bad news, we (the nation) are doing bad business: instead of working for our own benefit, we work for the benefit of the USA, with no compensating reward.

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