ABC News Online | 13 August 2004
The US has warned it has the right to reject the new Australian legal amendments to the FTA.
The legislation for Australia’s free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States has passed the Senate, along with Labor’s amendments.
The Coalition and Labor combined to pass the legislation after two weeks of debate in Senate, but the deal could still come unstuck if the US decides Australia’s supporting legislation including Labor’s amendments are not consistent with the agreement.
During the debate in the Senate, the minor parties argued against the deal.
"The Australian Democrats oppose the free trade agreement not becuase we’re anti-trade we believe in fair trade but this agreement is far from it," the Democrats’ Aden Ridgeway said.
One Nation’s Len Harris rejects the Government’s claim that the deal is a win for Australia.
"I say that’s codswallop, claptrap and absolutely twaddle," he said.
Greens Senator Bob Brown insists Australia has lost its sovereignty.
"What a black day for democracy this is - sold out by the big parties," he said.
But Trade Minister Mark Vaile welcomed the end of years of hard work to achieve a trade deal with the world’s largest economy.
"This is a great day for Australia in terms of benefits that can accrue to our economy in Australia for decades to come from this historic agreement," he said.
Labor leader Mark Latham was also claiming victory after the Government agreed to back the Opposition’s amendments.
"We said that we’d fight and fight and fight for improvements to the enabling legislation and today I can report that that objective has been achieved," he said.
Earlier Mr Latham said it was not surprising that the United States wanted to examine the FTA legislation, including Labor’s amendments, before deciding whether it is acceptable.
The US Trade Representative spokesman, Richard Mills, issued a statement confirming the US has the right to walk away from the deal if the supporting legislation is not consistent with the agreement.
"We understand that the FTA implementing legislation and amendments pose important issues in Australia, just as they did in the United States," Mr Mills said in a statement.
The United States had chosen not to intervene in Australia "at this point", he said.
"We have stated that it is Australia’s obligation to implement the FTA in a manner consistent with both the terms of the FTA and international intellectual property agreements," Mr Mills warned.
"We’ve made clear that the United States must certify that the implementation language fulfils the obligations under the FTA before the FTA can come into force. We reserve all our rights in this process."
Washington had given no support to the Australian legal amendments, Mr Mills said.
But Mr Latham has told Southern Cross radio that Labor has discussed its amendments with the US Trade Office and the American embassy and no concerns have been raised.
Mr Latham says he is not worried about the overnight reaction from the US.
"I’ve got the statement in front of me and they say they are going through the process to examine our legislation. That is the standard process," he said.
"Australia would be examining the legislation that passed through the United States Congress.
"Both nations have got to be confident the enabling laws are consistent with the text of the FTA, so that’s standard process and I’m sure that’ll happen in both countries."
However, Prime Minister John Howard has told Southern Cross Radio the United States could walk away from the deal unless they are satisfied the Australian Parliament’s legislation and amendments comply with the deal’s text.
"Unfortunately Mr Latham and Senator Conroy tried to give the impression they got a tick from the Americans about their amendment," he said.
"Well the Trade Representative spokesman made it very clear he did not give it a tick, he’s reserving his rights."
The final step is for the Australian and US governments to exchange notes approving the deal.