Australia - U.S. Free Trade Deal a Disaster
Family Farm Defenders
2 July 2004
As occupied Iraq becomes a Vietnam-style quagmire, Congress faces yet another foreign policy fiasco spawned by the White House in its effort to win its oil war. President Bush promised the Australian government an economic sweetener in exchange for support of the U.S. led invasion, and under fast track authority Congress must vote up or down on the Australia U.S. Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) by early July. For citizens in both countries AUSFTA will be an unmitigated disaster and this is why it is so strongly opposed by family farm groups, healthcare supporters, labor unions, environmentalists, and fair trade advocates. While Sen. Feingold and Rep. Baldwin (D - Madison) are to be applauded for having taken a public stance against AUSFTA, Wisconsinites have yet to see the same leadership in defense of food security, consumer safety, and democratic sovereignty from the likes of Rep. Kind (D - La Crosse) or Sen. Kohl.
Wisconsin’s struggling dairy farmers are just now recovering after decades of depressed milk prices. Under AUSFTA, though, they would face a veritable flood of imported milk protein concentrate (MPC). MPC is an industrial grade dairy byproduct not produced in the U.S. but which is sourced overseas by corporate food processors such as Kraft as a cheap substitute for domestic milk in the manufacture of processed cheeses, nutritional drinks, and snack items. The use of MPC in human food violates numerous food safety and labeling rules, yet Bush’s Secretary of Health and Human Services (and former WI governor), Tommy Thompson, has refused to take any serious regulatory action. A petition (Docket #2004P-0202/CP1) recently submitted by the National Family Farm Coalition against illegal use of MPC in human food is now before the FDA and receiving public comment. Australia is one of the largest MPC producers and with passage of AUSFTA would likely become another transshipment point - like Singapore - for laundering and exporting dubious MPC to the U.S.
The U.S. will also see a lot more travel weary meat from down under if AUSFTA goes through Congress. Midwest livestock producers are still reeling from lower market prices due to consumer concerns about the ongoing Mad Cow crisis and fast food induced obesity. Given the corporate control of the meatpacking industry, consumers will not likely benefit from more imported Australian beef, lamb, and sheep since Swift and Cargill are already poised to siphon off the bulk of the profit margin from global trade. More meat from the other side of the planet will lead to more desperate corporate attempts, such as irradiation, to stave off spoilage and make old cuts look “fresher.” Agribusiness lobbyists have also convinced Congress to back off from Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) as was mandated in the last farm bill, meaning that U.S. consumers will not even have the right to know where the meat on their plate comes from.
Of course, Australian farmers and consumers have their own pressing reasons to oppose such a corporate-driven free trade agreement. Under AUSFTA, Australians will lose their popular national healthcare program that provides affordable generic medicines at wholesale prices known as the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). Instead, they would be forced to adopt a U.S. style privatized system that guarantees corporate profits through patent monopolies, and would end up forking over 3-10 times more for the very same drugs. AUSFTA would also weaken Australia’s tougher food safety and consumer safety rules to be in line with the least common denominator approach that now runs the U.S. Australia would no longer be able to set its own policies regarding biotech crops and animals and would lose control over its quarantine regulations since they could be challenged by U.S. corporations as a trade barrier. The prospect of isolated Australia being contaminated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is ringing alarm bells across the global organic industry as clean seed sources are increasingly hard to come by.
Rigged global trade deals such as AUSFTA which place corporate profit above farmer livelihood, public health, food safety, and democratic sovereignty have no place in today’s increasingly interdependent world. Polls indicate that Australia will follow the example of Spain and probably oust the current government in the upcoming election for its complicity in the Iraqi war. Rather than being held hostage by mercenary free trade agreements, citizens in both the U.S. and Australia would do well to reject AUSFTA and insist upon fair trade policies, as well.