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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