Editorial: Free trade: itÂ’s time to fight backby Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
, September 23, 2000
â€” Peter Westmore is National President of the National Civic Council
Unjustifiable acts of violence, including blockades on delegates attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Melbourne, served to distract attention from the question of whether Australia has to succumb to the forces of globalism, so well represented by the delegates who attended the Forum.
It was not surprising that at the opening session of the Forum, held at Melbourneâ€™s Crown Casino on September 11, that Kenneth Courtis of Goldman Sachs Asia, should say that the World Economic Forum had the role of explaining the benefits of globalisation in â€śmaking life betterâ€ť.
A cynic might ask, â€śFor whom?â€ť
Not coincidentallyâ€” as successive Australian governments have embraced globalisation, cutting a swathe through manufacturing industry and throwing rural Australia to the tender mercies of the global economy â€” the value of the Australian dollar slumped to its lowest value ever, under US56 cents.
In Australia, the main victims of globalisation are not students protesting outside Crown Casino â€” who receive government-supplied Austudy grants â€” or even unionists, but rural Australians who for generations have been at the forefront of Australiaâ€™s export industries such as wool, beef, wheat and sugar.Desperation
The sense of desperation which affects rural Australia was emphasised in recent developments in the dairy and apple industries.
Following deregulation of the dairy industry, a supermarket price-cutting war has broken out, led by market leader, Woolworths-Safeway, which cut fresh milk prices by about 20 per cent.
The ultimate victims of this policy will be the dairy farmers whose incomes will be slashed, and â€ścorner storesâ€ť which earn much of their income from selling milk.
At almost exactly the same time, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) announced that under sustained pressure from the Federal Government, it had reversed a 1997 ban, and would permit the entry of New Zealand apples into Australia. AQIS was forced into this by the decision of Australian politicians to sign a World Trade Organisation treaty which forbids countries applying a â€śzero riskâ€ť assessment in banning imports. Under the trade rules, countries must permit entry of produce where the risk is â€śmanageableâ€ť.
New Zealand fruit blocks which are disease-free will be able to export apples, even if the disease is found elsewhere on a farm or in the surrounding district.
The decision has been bitterly opposed by Australian apple growers, who have pointed to the fact that New Zealand apples are affected by the fire blight disease which would devastate the Australian apple and pear industries. (New Zealand has no pear industry, due to fire blight.)
John Corboy, a former head of SPC and Chairman of the industryâ€™s Fire Blight Task Force, said, â€śthe Government had given trade imperatives priority over science-based quarantine. Whatâ€™s changed since AQIS looked at this? We are absolutely certain that there is no new science on the subject of fire blight.â€ť He said the Federal Government wanted to go easy on quarantine to improve trade relations with New Zealand.
Australia is an island continent with a clean green image because it is free of many serious diseases. Currently AQIS has 89 request for traders wanting to import currently restricted agricultural products.
Some of the potential problems include:
â€˘ the grape industry is under threat from imported California grapes contaminated with the vine-destroying Pierces Disease, which is devastating Californiaâ€™s vines;
â€˘ The banana industry is under threat from Philippine imports contaminated with four quarantinable diseases that are the equivalent of Foot and Mouth Disease in the livestock industry;
â€˘ the wheat industry is under threat from imported wheat containing Karnal Bunt, which can seriously taint a crop, giving the wheat a fishy taste;
â€˘ maize growers are under threat from bulk imports containing a number of quarantinable diseases; and
â€˘ contaminated fresh salmon from Canada threatens Tasmaniaâ€™s clean salmon industry.
Unfortunately, the cattle industry is pushing for cheap maize cattle fodder imports from the US, and pressuring to allow imports of Philippines bananas â€” otherwise the Philippines is threatening to cut beef imports.
Australian politicians, bureaucrats, farmers organisations and farmers now have to unite and stand up to the WTO.
So long as they remain divided, then we will eventually face pressure to accept foreign beef imports. It is quite conceivable that even Foot and Mouth Disease would be considered a â€śmanageableâ€ť disease.
Which raises the question. Where were our political leaders and the head of the National Farmers Federation during the World Economic Forum? Outside, protesting against what globalisation is doing to the only country in the world, alongside New Zealand, deluded enough to believe in free trade?
No, they were inside, praising the virtues of free trade!