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Trade and pub­lic policy

For more than 30 years I nego­ti­ated, ana­lyzed and advised on inter­na­tional trade agree­ments, mostly for gov­ern­ments (I was an Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment offi­cial for about half of that time). Occa­sion­ally I con­sulted to pri­vate inter­ests includ­ing indus­try and traders’ asso­ci­a­tions, cham­bers of com­merce and some­times firms caught-up in a ‘trade rem­edy’ action.

☞ You’ll find ten years of posts com­ment­ing on events and oppor­tun­ti­ties in the inter­na­tional trade sys­tem here on my site.

For rea­sons I’ve exam­ined here, the momen­tum of trade agree­ments has slowed. Australia’s trade nego­ti­a­tions pro­gram has slipped into neu­tral since the Doha round col­lapsed at the end of 2008 and our bilat­eral trade nego­ti­a­tions with North and East Asia ran into the sand. The cur­rent TPP nego­ti­a­tions are absorb­ing a lot of offi­cial ener­gies, but it is still unclear whether they will offer any­thing of com­mer­cial sig­nif­i­cance. The hub-and-spokes con­fig­u­ra­tion appar­ently imposed on them since 2011 (all nego­ti­at­ing texts are still secret!) may turn out to be more harm­ful than ben­e­fi­cial for future mar­ket integration.

Noth­ing is for­ever. I sus­pect the diver­gent poli­cies of the “West” and the Rest that have stymied mar­ket open­ing agree­ments in the past decade or more will re-converge at some point in the future. I hope it’s not over a ‘cri­sis’ (such as a resur­gence of seri­ous trade protection).

But that time still looks too far off to be hold­ing my breath. I’m now more actively engaged in related pur­suits includ­ing teach­ing in the Mas­ters of Inter­na­tional Trade & Devel­op­ment at the Uni­ver­sity of Ade­laide (below) and, from May 2013, work­ing with the Inter­na­tional Cham­ber of Com­merce on their cen­te­nary his­tory (1914–2014).

Human (med­ical) research ethics

For more than a decade, I’ve been for­tu­nate to have been appointed to the Ethics com­mit­tee of a major pub­lic hos­pi­tal in Mel­bourne, with a large research and teach­ing port­fo­lio. The hos­pi­tal has a lead­ing rep­u­ta­tion in trauma research and an asso­ci­ated insti­tu­tion is a well-recognised cen­tre for “first-in-man” tri­als of drugs and devices. It’s excit­ing to observe the front-lines of med­ical research and care, although rapidly improv­ing tech­nolo­gies some­times make knotty prob­lems out of once-straightforward eth­i­cal choices.

There’s another inter­est for me, too. The foun­da­tions of what we now call empiri­cism began with med­ical research. The most active mem­bers of the Royal Soci­ety (and of the Académie des Sci­ences, for that mat­ter) in the late 17th Cen­tury — where the ‘sci­en­tific method’ first secured a rhetor­i­cal beach-head — were physi­cians, many of them stu­dents of the great empir­i­cal anatomist William Har­vey. Still today, evidence-based pub­lic pol­icy finds its con­cep­tual roots in the med­ical sciences.


I’m teach­ing grad­u­ate stu­dents at Ade­laide Uni­ver­sity the polit­i­cal econ­omy of trade and a research-methods course that grows out of my inter­est in the use of sta­tis­tics (and visual pre­sen­ta­tion of data) to rep­re­sent the com­plex inter­ac­tions of world mar­kets and pro­duc­tion. I’m a long-time devo­tee — ama­teur, in every sense — of the sta­tis­ti­cal lan­guage “R” and have begun to use it in the course mate­ri­als.