Campaign to Scuttle US FTA a Re-run of Tariff Debate

The Business Council of Australia today called on the ALP to uphold the national interest and ignore last-ditch attempts by union leaders and the Greens to scuttle the US Free Trade Agreement.

BCA President, Mr Hugh Morgan, said efforts to pressure the ALP to discard this historic agreement were short-sighted and a re-run of efforts to prop up protectionism in the 1980s and 90s.

“This campaign has all the hallmarks of what were ultimately failed attempts to stall or wind back reductions in high tariffs, all to protect the vested interests of a comparative few at the expense of Australia’s economic development.

“It claims industry will be ‘decimated’ – the same assertion made when unions opposed tariff reductions.

“All the evidence shows that opening up Australia’s economy to the global markets has been beneficial for jobs growth and living standards for the vast majority of Australians,” Mr Morgan said.

“The principles behind supporting a free trade agreement with the world’s largest economy are the same as those behind tariff reductions – creating a freer movement of goods, services and investment that have ultimately benefited Australia.

“In some cases, there will be greater competition for jobs and investment, but the potential for opportunities to trade with the world’s largest, richest and most technologically advanced economy will far outweigh the downsides. It is Australia’s willingness to embrace this type of competition over the last decade that has lead to the economic growth that we currently enjoy.”

Mr Morgan said the release of a union survey on the weekend, aimed at pressuring Labor to reject the agreement, should have focused on the 41 per cent support for the agreement which the survey identified.

It should have also highlighted that only 12 per cent wanted the ALP to reject a free trade agreement with the US, with 80 per cent wanting Labor to support the agreement or some variation of it.

“Given the level of misinformation being spread about the FTA – of which the spin on this survey is another example – this is a telling result. Support will only increase once the agreement is in place and the community realises that the negatives promoted by some groups do not eventuate.”

Mr Morgan said business was particularly concerned with reports that the Australian Greens were making its preference support contingent on Labor blocking the agreement.

“The potential dangers of being the only country which had negotiated but then rejected a FTA with the world’s most dynamic economy were real,” he said.

“Australian cannot afford to send a message to our trading partners, to current and future investors in Australia, as well as our own business community that we will only participate in an open global economy on narrow terms.”