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Free and fair trade

Melbourne Herald-Sun


Free and fair trade

5 January 2006

TWO new developments have raised alarm bells about the free trade agreement between Australia and the US.

The first involves fresh trade figures, which show that Australia’s merchandise exports to the US fell by 4.7 per cent in the year to October.

Imports from America rose by 5.7 per cent over the same period.

The second relates to the Federal Government announcing it may drop FTA amendments that aim to protect consumer access to cheaper generic drugs.

Acting Prime Minister Mark Vaile

has admitted the Government is considering removing the safeguards after complaints by US drug firms that they were stifling investment.

Mr Vaile insists such a move would not affect our generous Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and he argues that the latest trade figures should not be taken out of context.

The FTA, which was signed amid great fanfare almost a year ago, has the potential to bring considerable benefits to both countries.

It certainly should not be judged on the strength of one set of trade data, given that the Government has always said it would take years to gauge the exact value of the deal.

But Australia should deal robustly with the likes of the US drug companies to ensure its citizens are not disadvantaged.

On balance, the FTA should continue to be supported as an example of our mature relationship with America.