ALTHOUGH some fairly significant hurdles remain, the Free Trade Agreement with the US is anticipated to come into force by the beginning of 2005.
Not only does the agreement have to pass through both the Australian Parliament and the US Congress during election years but both political opposition parties in the US and Australia are against the FTA.
There is also strong public sentiment about trade in the US currently.
Australia’s chief trade negotiator Stephen Deady said despite these hurdles both governments were committed to the process and he believed it would be ratified.
He said it was both governments’ commitment and understanding of similar trade positions as well as the relationship between Prime Minister John Howard and President George Bush that allowed the agreement to be negotiated in just 12 months.
In the US the agreement must pass through a legal scripting process that is expected to be completed by the end of April and put before Congress before the end of May.
“You can’t take anything for granted at all in these processes but the expectations are that the administration will take it forward this year.
“The US’ Bob Zoellick said to [Federal Trade Minister] Mark Vaile . . . in February that it was the US’ intention to bring the FTA up for a vote this year.
“And he repeated that . . . about three weeks ago, now.”
In Australia the process is harder to predict.
Nine separate pieces of legislation need to be changed to give effect to the FTA in Australia.
There is a Senate inquiry into the agreement and the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties will also report on the agreement.
Mr Deady also assured the forum that the FTA was underpinned by strong review and dispute mechanisms.
He said joint US/Australia working parties would be set up to monitor the agreement. Australia’s reperesntatives will report to a minister who will review the FTA each year.
The dispute settlement mechanism, which is of concern to some here in Australia, Mr Deady said is very similar to Word Trade Organisation procedures.
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