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Network's call for Govt transparency on Free Trade Agreement

While Catholic observers have been waiting for more information on the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to allow them to assess last weekend's deal between Australia and the US, the Sisters of Charity Advocacy Network (SCAN) has criticised the "the secrecy of such agreements and the lack of transparency in negotiations".

The full text of the Agreement will be revealed only when the it comes before the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, and in any legislation that comes before Parliament for the implementation of the agreement.

The deal excludes Australian access to US sugar markets and contains only limited access to dairy and beef markets. Some Australians are skeptical of Government assurances that this country's interests have been served in negotiations on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and local media content.

Critics have stressed the differing "spin" put on the agreement between Australian and US Government representatives on their respective websites.

SCAN Coordinator Sr Suzette Clark, who has been engaged on extensive research on the FTA, regretted that it's not possible to make a specific comment until the text is released. However she suggested the move towards bilateral - rather than multilateral - trade agreements is "detrimental to global cooperation", and "has social implications for the poor and marginalised".

She said: "In developing countries, bilateral agreements enforce liberalisation of trade and endanger food security, resulting in an even lower standard of living for many of the people."

"In Australia, as more industries go off shore and as tariffs drop, factories close and this reduces employment possibilities especially for unskilled labour."

Meanwhile Catholic Health Australia CEO Francis Sullivan joined a number of health sector organisations in welcoming the apparent commitment by both countries to keep the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) intact.

He said: "With the growing cost pressures on the PBS, we need to find a balance whereby the more prosperous in the community contribute more so that those on average incomes don't lose the benefits they have now."

Australia & United States Free Trade Agreement (Sisters of Charity Advocacy Network 11/2/04)
Catholic Health Australia - Canberra Update

Joint Standing Committee on Treaties
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement
United States Trade Representative: US and Australia reach agreement on Free Trade | Fact Sheet
The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA): Free for all or just for some? (Edmund Rice Centre)
Bishop says free trade threatens sovereignty and democracy (CathNews 25/11/03)
Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network
Sisters of Charity Advocacy Network

12 Feb 2004