Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 02:13 | SYDNEY
Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 02:13 | SYDNEY

Reviewing trade and investment policy


Mark Thirlwell

23 September 2008 17:54

Yesterday, Trade Minister Simon Crean released the report of the Review of Export Policies and Programs undertaken by David Mortimer and John Edwards. Billed as ‘the most comprehensive review of Australia's approach to trade and international investment in more than a decade’, the whole thing, including appendices, adds up to well over 200 pages. So it will take a fair bit of time to digest. 

One early item of interest is the Review’s attitude to so-called Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). A lot of trade economists have been distinctly hostile towards FTAs in the past, and the previous government received a fair amount of telling-off from purists for its decision to pursue bilateral agreements alongside the multilateral process. The Review, it seems, doesn’t buy the purists’ arguments. At the beginning of Chapter Five, we have:

The Review received comments from stakeholders on the relative merits of multilateral and bilateral approaches to improving market access. There is an underlying assumption that the two are somehow in conflict and that there is a choice to be made between them. In our view this is misplaced. We consider that both approaches have important and distinctive roles in Australia’s efforts to open global markets.

Of course, given the current state of multilateral trade negotiations, a reluctance to rule out other policy approaches doesn’t really come as much of a surprise. 

The Review also has interesting things to say about Australia’s role in the WTO, including advocating greater use of the disputes settlement system. When it comes to FTAs, in Chapter 6 it notes the potential benefits to Australia of a region-wide trade agreement (with an FTAAP as a long term goal) and of better disciplines on the international quality of FTAs. The Review also suggests that Australia should contemplate participating in the P4 agreement (which currently comprises Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore) and that an FTA with the European Union should be ‘seriously considered’, even to the extent of explicitly not ruling out an agreement based only on services and related investment.