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AMWU - Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union : Steep cost of Abbott rush to free trade

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10/24/2013 | 04:53am EDT


Loaded deals: Australian workers and industry could pay a high price for Pacific and China trade deals being negotiated by the new Coalition Government.

 A price rise to the cost of medicines is among numerous economic risks to Australians should Tony Abbott rush into a new Pacific Trade agreement which would hand foreign companies the right to sue Australian governments , the AMWU has warned. 

There could also be more down side than up in terms of lost jobs and damage to industries if the new PM delivers on his intent to sign the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement  (TPPA) before Christmas, as he announced in his first appearance on the world stage at the APEC forum in Bali.

AMWU National President Andrew Dettmer echoed widespread community concern in advising extreme caution over Mr Abbott's desire to get a Free Trade Agreement with China signed within a year.

"Tony Abbott may have been a little star struck when meeting Pacific rim leaders for the first time, but his overly eager efforts to impress them could backfire on the entire Australian community, especially workers and businesses," Mr Dettmer said.

The Abbott Government has agreed with foreign powers to put Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions (ISDS) back on the table in its ongoing negotiations as part of Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

The Rudd and Gillard governments, and even the Howard Government, regarded ISDS as a non-starter. ISDS would hand foreign companies the legal right to sue Australian governments for policies they think will block their unfettered access to our markets and any resulting potential profits.

In its opposition to ISDS provisions, the AMWU is united with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, consumer groups and international law experts.

Many US drug companies regard the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which subsidises medicines for all Australians, as an infringement on their free trade rights and are eager to challenge it if handed that right under the TPPA.

ISDS provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement are being used by a US mining company to sue the Quebec Government in Canada for $250 million because it dared to have an environmental review of shale oil mining.

"We can't let that happen here - imagine the implications for NSW, where the Government has moved to exclude large areas from the risks of coal seam gas drilling," Mr Dettmer said.

Mr Dettmer said if Australian Governments wanted free trade agreements, they must ensure the trade barriers and domestic tax favouritism of our trading partners are dismantled to give our exports fair access.

"Australia, unlike most of our trading partners, has an open economy and few barriers to imported goods. This already makes it difficult for Australian manufacturers who often face unfair barriers when they try to export," he said.

"We have to tell Tony Abbott and his team of greenhorn Ministers to pull their collective heads in, and not rush Australia into free trade agreements which have implications for the long-term economic well-being of all Australians.

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