Useful And Fantastic: Free Trade And Fair Trade
"Many people believe that they are helping the third world develop when they buy overseas goods. However, each purchase should be scrutinised and determined whether it actually does help the citizens of these countries. Sometimes commodities produced in developing countries are controlled by multi-nationals at the price of those countries' own self-sustainability,'' writes Val Yule.
Free trade and fair trade are complex issues. A few thousand words can only open up the many elements that are relevant.
Free Trade really began as a mercantile ideal, with the repeal of the English Corn Laws in 1832. This was a blow for freedom, and for the workers who needed bread, as the farmers had to bring their excessive prices down. It was a sign for the English exporters of goods, who wanted freedom to export anywhere.
During the next century, free trade was a banner for the British and American push backed by navies and armies, into overseas markets, especially India, China and Japan.
Today however, trade can be governed by Free Trade Agreements with other countries, especially the United States, which always bargains in its own favour. The high rate of the Australian dollar encourages imports and discourages exports. Cheap labour in competing countries makes their prices lower than ours. A level playing field is not possible when other countries have tariffs, dumping policies, low wages, subsidies and low exchange rates. The abandonment of the principle of balanced trade allows us to import things that we once made or grew ourselves.
Big supermarkets buy the cheapest from overseas. Most people's main consideration when buying goods is price. Origin is not considered.
Many people believe that they are helping the third world develop when they buy overseas goods. However, each purchase should be scrutinised and determined whether it actually does help the citizens of these countries. Sometimes commodities produced in developing countries are controlled by multi-nationals at the price of those countries' own self-sustainability. Sometimes the production of commodities for overseas consumption prevents a developing country developing for its own needs. What happens to developing countries if we don't buy from them? What is charity and what is helping them develop their own industries and standing on their own feet? Buy from them what we can' tgrow or make, and be sure we give them a long-term, durable future.
We need to keep some industries of our own. Self-defence needs steel, for example. We need to be able to feed ourselves. We cannot rely on the exports of mining and innovative products produced by a few ingenious minds. We can take in each other's washing, with service industries, but that does not fulfil all our needs. Tourists may not always come to Australia bringing their extra money.
Currently, much that is made or grown in Australia is controlled by businesses owned overseas, and the profits go overseas. Investment from overseas can be a desirable source of capital, but this is not often the case in many of the overseas' takeovers of flourishing Australian companies.
There is inhibition of free trade that can also harm us. For example, excessive copyright laws prohibit the free exchange of information, and go beyond fair reward to the originators. The most important free trade is free trade in knowledge and ideas.
What can be done?
Everyone can do something to reduce the harm from imports that compete unfairly with our home products. Everyone has a part to play, from the consumer and retailer, to the negotiators of free trade agreements, and the home producers themselves, who can ensure that their integrity and quality remain high.
Indeed, Australia does have some lazy workers and incompetent and greedy businesses. Just look at the failure of the government insulation schemes and school building, which were wrecked by some contractors. We need watchful eyes on them. Nevertheless, most producers are straight players; they struggle on the tilted playing field.
Australian manufactures go under, but people laugh because they can buy cheaper shoes, clothes, chemicals and furnishings from overseas. They do not consider that the cost of freight and of overseas goods will be higher in the future. They do not consider how the former workers will be unemployed, a burden on the fewer taxpayers, rather than sharers in paying taxes and buying other Australian products. Who knows the count of jobs and businesses that have gone under?
Already 80% of food in supermarkets is foreign-owned and far too much of it is imported. Where are the promotions of all-Australian products in shops? We have promotions of say, Dutch or Italian goods. At Christmas, fine chocolates on display in supermarkets are all imported. You may look vainly for the many Australian makers of fine chocolates and other sweets. Why should lemons in the shops come from the United States, at up to a dollar each, in suburbs where gardens grow lemons by the bushel?
Government tenders can seek the cheapest suppliers, while Australian heavy industry languishes.
In agriculture, farmers may be uprooting their long-term investments - for example, their orange trees, because they cannot afford to harvest them. Sometimes this is because the area is not suitable for continued growth of these crops. But often, it is simply the competition from other countries that have cheap labour and low exchange rates.
If we cut our carbon emissions by abandoning our aluminium industries - an obvious industry to maintain with our abundant raw material, and the needs of continuing manufactures - we are only sending the emissions overseas by buying the aluminium that we import. Greater innovation in production would be the better option.
The future requires that we have food security, self-defence, and jobs for youth.
We should still be protesting and asking for re-negotiated clauses in Free Trade Agreements. Tell the politicians to defend their country.
Up for grabs under the Australia–United States Free Trade Agreement (The Agreement) are Australian agriculture, manufactured goods, financial services, intellectual property, freedom of information, investment, health, education, entertainment, media, automotive, telecommunications, e-commerce, quarantine, technical regulations and standards, environment and labour.
The Agreement goes far beyond a trade agreement. It includes foreign investment, competition policy, government procurement and makes many of our own laws subject to US regulation, such as quarantine and copyright.
United States corporate interests can prevent legislation that protects Australia's interests, including environmental or social welfare, and can sue our government in costly litigation paid for by us taxpayers. The powers of the Foreign Investment Review Board are crippled.
Such agreements make Australia lose the power to govern itself.
Canadians complain about losses of power to self-govern in their own country. Mexicans complain that the initial rush of United States investment because of lower labour costs has now shifted to Asia, where labour costs are lower still. But these countries have the benefit, which we have not, of being next to the United States, so that bilateral trade agreements for goods to flow across borders make sense.
It does not matter whether we are in name a republic or not, if in effect we become an economic colony of the United States or China. We should be friends, not subordinate to other countries interests. The United States' history of assertive colonization and 'free trade'should warn us. They want 'freedom to' and we need 'freedom from.'