Image for Rethink on free trade long overdue

The Gillard government’s “rethink” on free trade is long overdue and the focus needs to shift in the short term to the government’s headlong rush into the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, Australian Greens Deputy Leader Christine Milne said today.


“Australia should not trade away its health care, nor should it trade away its food security, local media content rules or Australian government procurement rules just because US companies want the right to sue Australian governments for damages on the grounds that environmental or other public interest laws could harm their investments,” Senator Milne said in Hobart.


“The process and the text of the proposed agreement should be opened up to public scrutiny and evidence of benefits needs to be clearly established before these agreements are signed up to – as was not the case with the US FTA.


“Fair trade, not just free trade, needs to be the focus. There needs to be transparency and consistency on labour rights and environmental laws as well as an unreserved support for developing and least developed countries.


“A long-standing concern of the Greens has been the increasing difficulties faced by food producers when trying to compete against products produced with lax environmental standards and low wages. Free trade agreements which take no account of environmental laws or wage differences make it near impossible for farmers to compete with foreign-grown products no matter how efficient Australian farmers are.


“A Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA would also bring with it Monsanto’s pressure regarding genetically engineered crops and their push to end labelling of GE foods, pressure from US corporates on Australia’s pharmaceutical benefits scheme, and a push back on the plain packaging of tobacco.


“Just yesterday the Public Health Association of Australia warned that documents leaked from the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement talks outline US proposals for provisions that would raise the cost of medicines, extend the monopoly rights of drug companies and place new restrictions on Australia’s pharmaceutical benefits scheme.


“The world needs a new trade regime that maximises food production where it can be grown best and which guarantees fair trade in food and equitable access for all.


“Instead of recycling old ways of thinking we should think about this century’s challenges of sustainability in the face of huge population growth, including climate change, the growing gap between rich and poor, and the competition between China and the US for influence across the Pacific and beyond.”