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The US-Australia Free Trade Agreement (or AUSFTA) was signed on 18 May 2004 and came into effect on 1 January 2005. It’s a comprehensive agreement, with chapters on: Market access for goods, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, cross-border services, financial services, electronic commerce, investment, intellectual property rights, government procurement, competition policy, labour, environment and dispute settlement.

Throughout the negotiations, the contents of the agreement were problematic for different sectors on both sides of the Pacific. US farmers managed to keep sugar out of the deal, but would face new competition from Australian dairy imports. Social opposition to the agreement ran high in Australia, the major concern being access to affordable medicine. The FTA commits Australia to provide stronger patent monopolies to US drug companies, directly compromising Australia’s Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The FTA became a key electoral issue in Australia in late 2004. However, Prime Minister Howard was re-elected and came to a final accord with the Bush administration on the drugs chapter by the end of the year, thereby assuring the agreement’s entry into force at the start of 2005.

One year into the FTA, debate broke out in Australia over the impacts. In the first year, US exports to Australia had shot up while Australia’s exports to the US had shot down. Further, US drug companies were not happy with the limited safeguards left to protect Australia’s PBS and started moving to have them scrapped.

In 2007, Australia registered a $13.6 billion trade deficit with the US, its largest ever with any trading partner. The National Institute of Economic and Industry Research estimates that the US-Australia FTA could cost the Australian economy up to $50 billion and 200,000 jobs.

last update: May 2012

Photo: Jackaranga / Wikipedia / Public domain

Australia left holding trade’s billion-dollar baby
THE United States-Australia free trade agreement has now been operating for a year. Australian exports to the US appear to be down and American exports to Australia appear to be up. The net result is another billion dollars of deficit in the current account between the two countries. Some people are saying that we have been sold a pup and others are saying that it is too early to tell.
A political placebo
Opponents of the Australia-US free trade agreement are nothing if not obstinate - and opportunist. A year after the deal was done the world has not ended, but they still say catastrophe is imminent, especially for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Power play hurts the nation’s health
The Labor Party’s 2004 amendments to the legislation enabling the free trade agreement with the US have nothing to do with good policy and everything to do with good politics.
The high cost of free trade
WHEN the free trade agreement with the United States kicked in a year ago, Bill Rush saw his big chance. His company, Australian Defence Apparel, makes ceramic plates to be worn over bulletproof vests to protect troops against armour-piercing fire.
Free and fair trade
TWO new developments have raised alarm bells about the free trade agreement between Australia and the US.
Done like a dinner on free trade deal
TO laugh or to cry? That is the question. Do you laugh at the increasingly ludicrous attempts by defenders of the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement to explain away the results of the FTA’s operation since it came into effect on January 1 last year?
FTA ’a dud deal’
There are calls today for Australia to scrap the free trade agreement.
US sugar farmers say they will strongy oppose any changes to the FTA
The US Sugar Alliance, representing cane and beet farmers, says it will lobby strongly against any further opening of the US market to Australian sugar. Meantime, there are calls today for Australia to scrap the free trade agreement.
Vaile to fight US on sugar
Australia will urge the US to prise open its lucrative sugar markets as part of a fresh push to improve access for farmers under the free trade deal. The Howard Government’s renewed attempt to secure a better deal from the free trade agreement came as Acting Prime Minister Mark Vaile defended lopsided results from the first year of the pact.
United States the FTA winner one year on
The government has blamed a stronger currency and increased competition from Asia for a disappointing first year in Australia’s new trade pact with the United States.