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Home News New portal and roadshow to sell the benefits of FTAs
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DEPARTMENTSAusTrade, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
TAGS Andrew Robb, Austrade, Business/Finance, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Department of Industry and Science, Free trade, Trade pact
AusTrade and DFAT have been ordered to do more engagement at home. The government isn’t satisfied with the take-up by businesses of the opportunities from the hard-fought free trade agreements with China, Japan and Korea.
AusTrade will get $24.6 million for an engagement program to sell the value of this government’s free trade agreements.
The plans published in the 2015-16 federal budget papers include an online dashboard-portal and national seminar series to help businesses make informed decisions about trading internationally.
Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb said the seminar series would be a collaborative project undertaken by AusTrade and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. On budget night, Robb said:
“Reaching out to business to help make our FTAs more accessible is something governments over the years haven’t always done as well as they could have; the agreements our government has secured with three of our four biggest trading partners, offer too much promise to risk low utilisation.
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Harley Dennett is editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's held communications roles in the New South Wales public sector and Defence, and reported for titles including Crikey and the Star Observer.
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Frances Adamson, I believe that you have a lot of capacity building to do
within your Department before they will be able to produce a credible White
Paper. The 2003 White Paper Advancing the National Interest was a shallow document that considered free trade and free investment as being the only pathway (in the international arena) to prosperity.
I used to engage in the “consultations” with DFAT over its proposed free trade agreements but long ago gave them up as a waste of time as the Department was ideologically fixated on the benefits of free trade and free foreign investment. No matter that there is no coherent theory to underpin claims about the universal benefits of free trade (comparative advantage is inapplicable in an era of free exchange of capital across national borders). No matter that all or nearly all of the free trade agreements Australia has signed have been followed by a worsening of the trade deficit with that country; no matter that for example the $2 billion per annum net benefit that the US free trade agreement was supposed to bring Australia turned out to be a deficit. No matter that there is a conceptual contradiction between a free-trade agenda and bilateral trade agreements; the pro-free-trade agenda just rolled on regardless.
The problem within your Department is nicely described by your observation that public servants “have a tendency to think that what we’re doing is right” and have a tendency toward “systemically convincing people it is for their own good”, but for DFAT it is really worse than that. Your Department’s zeal in favour of free trade and free foreign investment is an obsession. Its in-depth consultation with business to the exclusion of the community and even parliamentarians is scandalous, just as was its Economic Analytical Unit’s sponsorship by big business.
I don’t believe DFAT can hide behind the skirts of the political champions of free trade. Solid evidence-based policy analysis pointing out the dis-benefits could, I am confident, have convinced politicians to take a more cautious approach.
The Department’s free-trade agenda has left Australia with a hollowed out manufacturing sector, a growing and now unpayable private foreign debt, a weakened biosecurity barrier, foreign ownership of the sources of production and a tool for the supermarkets to bargain against Australian farmers down below the cost of production. All these dis-benefits have been well documented by scholars and community groups but the evidence has fallen on deaf ears.
I wish you well in your attempts to craft a credible White Paper, but I don’t believe that your Department has the analytical capacity necessary to do the task justice.