Export Council of Australia challenges any rise in protectionism

Image: David Simonds/The Economist

Comprehensive international trade liberalisation is becoming ever more elusive, sparking action by the Export Council of Australia (ECA) to urge continued support for international agreements that serve too further liberalise trade between Australia and the rest of the world.

The ECA’s preference has always been for comprehensive trade liberalisation to occur on a multilateral basis through the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Given that the WTO Doha Round of negotiations has stalled, we believe that continuing to promote greater trade and investment liberalisation through bilateral, regional and plurilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTA) is absolutely vital for Australia’s economy.

“I don’t think that the role of the WTO will diminish”, ECA CEO Lisa McAuley says.  “It remains the ideal forum for other comprehensive initiatives in trade, evidenced by the recent Trade Facilitation Agreement and the expanded Agreement on Information Technology Goods and the agreement to abolish agricultural export subsidies reached at the end of 2015.”

“We have to remember that the introduction of FTAs does not introduce extra complexity. The world of international trade is already a complex web of tariff rates, standards and entry requirements and successful exporters and importers, both large and small, are already navigating their way around them.”

“FTAs allow us the opportunity to negotiate trade rules and provide businesses with some certainty that those rules, including tariff rates, will remain in the long term,” Ms McAuley said.

There is extensive support for trade liberalisation from economics experts, who also see significant risks arising from the adoption of protectionist measures and attempts to backtrack from liberalisation.

In relation to the US, MIT Sloan School of Management professor Erik Brynjolfsson notes:

No nation can succeed by trying to protect the past from the future. We will succeed by having the confidence to embrace competition, and leveraging our comparative strengths, which are numerous. We have the largest, most productive and most technologically advanced economy that’s ever existed on this planet. The more open the world economy is, the more we have an opportunity to leverage our many strengths.”

“We cannot forget that Australia, through the recent brining into force of the North Asian FTA’s and our FTA network in general, has levels of market access into key markets that is the envy of many other countries around the world”. 

“There was sound rationale to taking the path to more open trade which Australia has adopted, clear benefits have accrued, and offer great future opportunity to our community.” 

“The ECA believes we need to focus on initiatives that support companies in improving their utilisation of Australia’s FTAs.  This can be achieved by placing greater emphasis on, and investment in, raising the overall awareness of the tangible and intangible benefits that arise from FTAs.” 

“The ECA believes that making FTAs accessible to all business, irrespective of size, is a step in the right direction.  We therefore need to encourage more export-capable companies to engage with opportunity, as well as grow our skills base to succeed internationally”, Ms McAuley said 

The recent efforts by the Government to educate exporters, importers, and service providers on successful FTA utilisation have been welcomed, and we believe this is where the focus needs to be so that as many Australian companies as possible can maximise the benefits of these agreements.