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Havachat: Free, fair or foolish? The Australian-US FTA - Day 4

By Doug Cameron and Alan Oxley - posted Thursday, 29 May 2003

Havachats are week-long email dialogues between two prominent advocates on an issue of the day. To vote on the issue and make your view count, click here.

Day 1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5.

Doug goes first. Alan responds.


From: Doug Cameron
Sent: Tuesday, May 28, 2003 14:48
To: Alan Oxley
Subject: First response

Dear Alan

The AMWU supports trade. Trade that promotes social justice, human rights and democracy - fair trade.

Fair trade is not about blocking trade with Bangladesh because workers in Bangladesh don't receive the same wages as US or Australian workers. This is a common misrepresentation by people such as yourself. Fair trade insists that trade agreements include commitments to core labour standards. These basic human rights include:

  • the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour;
  • the effective abolition of child labour;
  • the right of workers and employers to freedom of association and the effective right to collectively bargain; and
  • the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

Fair trade is about saying that the rules for trade should be designed to benefit the community, not just some select group of powerful companies or countries.

It is clear that every country, including Australia, that has climbed up the development ladder has done so not through "free trade" but through strategic government support and intervention to enable effective participation in high productivity growth areas. The agenda of the US is to kick away the ladder to development by using subsidies, the defence industry, and patents to protect its dominance and, use free trade to remove from other countries the capacity for effective government intervention and support for local economic and social development.


Studies have shown that trade unions, in both developed and developing countries, want labour standards in trade agreements - even if their governments (many of which are not democratically elected or have a poor record on human rights) do not!

Free trade, as you call it, doesn't lift workers out of poverty. For example, the wages of Mexican workers have fallen since the introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Joseph Stiglitz, ex-Chief Economist with the World Bank, has observed that free-market policies have, in fact, increased poverty in Russia and Eastern Europe.

In their latest National Trade Estimates Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, the US identified a whole series of what it calls "trade barriers" including:

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About the Authors

Doug Cameron is National Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

Alan Oxley is the former ambassador to the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs and Chairman of the Australian APEC Studies Centre.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Doug Cameron
All articles by Alan Oxley
Related Links
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union
Australia-US Trade Agreement home page
Dept of Foreign Affairs and Trade resources
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