Saturday 28 Mar 2020 | 21:19 | SYDNEY
Saturday 28 Mar 2020 | 21:19 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Trade promises kept and broken


Sam Roggeveen


23 May 2008 13:43

John responds to my post about our 'bilateral' relations with the EU. My response follows:

During a pre-election debate between Simon Crean and the then incumbent (Warren Truss) at the Lowy, the challenger made the point on several occasions that he felt that one of the great achievements of the previous Labor Government was its role in strengthening multilateral trade negotiations and the principle of broadening trade talks to include as many countries as possible. Also, that this was central to the nature of a strategy which enhanced the interests of developing world trade and protected countries not able to protect themselves when bilateral trade deals were done. In fact he went further to say that if he were elected his first priority would be an effort to resurrect the Doha Round and he would not rush to pursue bilateral trade arrangements.

Interesting then, when in the wake of NZ’s Chinese bilateral agreement, and in the flourish of a Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister, all that is forgotten. Nay even if there is some doubt about whether you could call Europe one country and with a wonderful opportunity to clothe the emperor by calling the effort to engage Europe 'multilateral', bilateral has become the flavour of the month. Perhaps he thinks we won’t remember. This is No Country for Old Men.

But John, as the update to my post noted, Crean is perfectly right to refer to trade with the EU as 'bilateral', since EU members have transferred all trade authority to that body. For the purposes of trade, then, the EU is a single country. Hence 'bilateral'. I had just never heard the term 'bilateral' used in that context before, which is why I asked the question.

As for the larger point about Labor's promises on trade, my record of the debate shows Crean supported bilateral FTAs, but said they should be WTO compliant, and that the ultimate goal for Labor was progress on multilateral trade. I don't think those policy principles have been abandoned. It's just that it would have been diplomatically silly to abandon the bilateral FTA negotiations that the previous governments had started. I've seen no evidence that it's a reaction to the NZ-China FTA.