Good oil on AUSFTA

Yesterday I mentioned Tim Dunlop’s post on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme aspects of the Free Trade Agreement as telling us everything we need to know on the subject. But Chris Sheil’s post is even better. What’s more, most of the meaty detail and analysis of the pros and cons is in the comment box, and by a variety of contributors. I found IP expert Peter Drahos’s submission (linked by Rex Ringschott) especially helpful in forming my own views on this very complex subject.

I’ve been too busy until now to absorb the detail, but having done so (at least on the PBS aspect) I’ve belatedly turned into a strong opponent of the FTA. Too late now by the look of it. With a bit of luck Howard will be a dickhead and continue refusing Latham’s anti-evergreening proposal, which is arguably dubious in a policy sense but undoubtedly politically smart.

I doubt it though. Howard is the ultimate pragmatist, and when the AMA, local drug companies and all State and Territory leaders are calling on him to cave in, there isn’t much doubt he’ll beat a strategic retreat in an attempt to avoid allowing the political momentum to swing towards Latham.

As others have observed, it’s all about politics at this stage, and very little to do with good policy. Drahos makes a pretty persuasive case for the proposition that the FTA will halve the price differential Australia currently enjoys in drug prices as a result of the PBS over the next five years or so (not to mention dividing Cairns group countries and so reducing prospects of their using IP issues as a bargaining chip in achieving multilateral freeing up of agricultural trade). Latham’s amendment might mitigate that damage at the margin, but that’s about all. But in purely electoral terms it might even have snatched victory from the jaws of impending defeat. Latham has lots of weak points, but his strong one is that he’s a great lateral thinker.

As John Quiggin observed, the blogosphere discussion and analysis of this issue (especially by comment box contributors) makes the mainstream media coverage look as pathetic and superficial as it really is. You should all be proud of yourselves for being part of the maturing realisation of this extraordinary democratic medium.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2022 years ago

Agreed about the blogs, Ken.

In moments of crisis, whether Australian or world, I have in the past turned to the ABC and the broadsheets. This time it was the blogs.

At this moment (and it was certainly one of drama if not of crisis: the FTA decision coincided with a Newspoll showing the coalition as at least caught up, possibly in front. What it seemed like was inevitable capitulation -Labor must support the FTA or be anti-US, meanwhile risking left and Green support) both background and progress were needed.

That came very quickly on the blogs, and the quality clearly exceeded the broadsheets.

The times indeed are changing. Many of us realized Latham had pulled off a sleeper well before the mainstream caught on. It needed Howard to resist to really work – and he did.

The consequences were extraordinary. Suddenly it was a fight about the PBS, and Anti-US and flip-flopping were dead. Moreover, the Premiers and Beazley fell in solidly. Even the Left were smiling after they realized the Sting.

We got it first on the blogs. Not only that, but we also realized that it was clearly not about trade or economic advantage on either side. It was about grabbing the political initiative.

Latham sneaked up on everyone, except possibly Alan Ramsey, with a left field move.

Michael Jennings
2022 years ago

I think everything to do with intellectual property law in the FTA is a disaster. The proposal to adopt DMCA style copyright law, the local content laws, and the pharmaceuticals stuff are all about protectionism rather than free trade.

Those sections of the agreement that actually free trade (which is most of the rest of them) are good, except that they are rather tepid, mainly because of all the agricultural goods that have been left out.

I think on balance I am against the FTA too, and I am generally about as rabid a proponent of free trade as you will find.