November 15, 2002 | Commentary on
ED111502a: Making Nice with Australia; Avocado, Anyone?
Yesterday's announcement that the United States and Australia will
enter negotiations for a free-trade agreement is doubly good news.
It represents a further repudiation of the destructive
protectionist policies that prevailed in Washington earlier this
Additionally, it suggests that the administration of U.S.
President George W. Bush appreciates the noneconomic benefits and
uses of trade liberalization. Free-trade policies can be an
invaluable tool for strengthening diplomatic and military alliances
and rewarding America's friends.
Earlier this year, Washington's trade policy seemed to be focused
primarily on scoring political points with powerful special
interests in the U.S. The imposition of steel tariffs, the larding
up of farm subsidies and several other moves led to bruised
feelings among America's trading partners and World Trade
Organization rulings against overtly protectionist actions.
Worse, these actions wholly undercut America's long-standing
message that free trade benefits all nations, rich and poor.
America, it seemed, was talking free trade while walking in the
For several months, though, the walk has been shifting back into
alignment with the talk. Numerous exceptions to the steel tariffs
have been adopted, for example. And, since Mr. Bush won Trade
Promotion Authority this summer, trade negotiations have been
Now, the U.S. expects to nail down trade agreements with Chile and
Singapore within a matter of months. This fall, the White House
announced its intent to negotiate trade deals with Morocco, the
Southern Africa Union and five Central American nations. But the
announcement from Canberra by U.S. Trade
Representative Robert Zoellick is easily the most significant
trade development yet.
The Australian economy is far larger than that of any other nation
-- or group of nations -- currently sitting opposite the U.S. at
the negotiating table. Consequently, the stakes are much
Both nations stand to reap economic gains from freer trade.
American farmers, for example, have long sought greater access to
Australian markets. Recently, Australia opened its doors to
California table grapes -- a market producers estimate to be about
$10 million a year. With the door already cracked open to
California grapes, trade negotiators should be able to kick it open
for other American fruits and vegetables: citrus, stone fruit,
apples, pears and corn.
The open door must swing both ways. Australian farmers face
numerous restrictions and other American-imposed hurdles when
exporting their citrus, tomatoes and avocados to this country.
Additionally they face subsidy programs that leave them playing
with a stacked deck.
According to calculations by the Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development, Australia's domestic support of
agriculture amounts to only 4% of all farm receipts. Even before
enactment of this year's fabulously generous farm bill, U.S.
support was running at the 21% level.
Naturally, negotiators will address far more than agricultural
products. Members of the U.S. business coalition pushing for a
trade agreement range from the American Insurance Association and
Delphi Automotive Systems to Eastman Kodak and Lockheed
Additionally, a free-trade agreement will aid the security of both
nations by reinforcing their longstanding alliance. In the midst of
a global war on terror, when the enemy may strike anywhere at
anytime, such reinforcement is vital.
Much is made of the "special relationship" between the U.S. and
the United Kingdom. But when it comes to supporting the U.S. in
times of travail, Australia has a record at least as dedicated as
that of the U.K. Aussie and American troops have fought
side-by-side in every major war of the 20th century.
And it is no different this century. Within weeks of the Sept. 11
attacks, Australia committed 1,550 soldiers to the international
coalition against terrorism. Months later, an Australian SAS
commander received the U.S. Bronze Star for bravery in battle in
Afghanistan. Such faithfulness should be rewarded. America in
wartime does a great job of punishing its foes. It's equally as
important to take the time to reward its friends.
A free-trade agreement is an excellent way to help Australia while
helping America to "do good and do very well." Trade negotiations
are often tiresome, especially when agriculture is involved. But
the U.S. should make every effort to lower tariffs and nontariff
barriers and complete this agreement in a timely
Time and again Australia has extended a hand in friendship,
marched with America in its darkest hours, only to see the
protectionist side of the U.S. It is time for America to rise to
the occasion and thank a faithful ally by making intelligent
concessions at the negotiating table.
Fitzgerald is a trade-policy analyst in the Center for
International Trade and Economics at the Heritage Foundation
Originally appeared in the Asian Wall Street Journal.