Trade and the election

Despite recent attempts at “prod­uct differentiation”: over the US Free Trade Agree­ment, the next Labor or Con­ser­v­a­tive Trade Min­is­ter will inher­it a trade pol­i­cy that is most­ly free of ide­o­log­i­cal dic­tates and in which per­son­al­i­ties con­tribute more than poli­cies to Par­ty dif­fer­ences. Ideas play a larg­er role in Aus­tralian trade pol­i­cy than you might think; but ide­olo­gies, very lit­tle. Take the ALP “trade pol­i­cy platform”: There’s lit­tle there, if any­thing that a con­ser­v­a­tive par­ty trade Min­is­ter could not sub­scribe to. The top agen­da items for Australia’s next Trade Min­is­ter, in my view: # Form good work­ing rela­tion­ships with the new US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive and Peter Man­del­son, the EC Com­mis­sion­er for Trade who will be installed on 1 Novem­ber. These two remain our largest trad­ing part­ners (the EC as a group) and our great­est source of invest­ment.
# Devel­op a bet­ter under­stand­ing, in Aus­tralia, of the objec­tives and sig­nif­i­cance of the pro­posed bilat­er­al free trade agree­ment with Chi­na so that we can set­tle on a well-defined nego­ti­at­ing man­date before the sched­uled start of bilat­er­al talks, mid-2005
# Build some coher­ence into our ‘cher­ry-pick­ing’ approach to bilat­er­al agree­ments so that we can extract bet­ter ‘net­work ben­e­fits’ from our own agree­ments and con­tribute to a region-wide trade open­ing strat­e­gy
# Keep a seat for Aus­tralia in the ‘inner cir­cle’ of the WTO over the final year or two of the cur­rent glob­al trade nego­ti­a­tions. This will be dif­fi­cult now that the Aus­tralian-led Cairns Group of agricu­lu­tur­al exporters has lost influ­ence. But the WTO remains the sin­gle most effec­tive way to bring about bet­ter and more sta­ble prices in world com­mod­i­ty mar­kets that remain cru­cial to Aus­tralia.
# Work through any remain­ing issues with the USA over imple­men­ta­tion of the Free Trade Agree­ment and the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion on phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal patents and any cir­cum­ven­tion of the PBS

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