In a valuable contribution to the debate over the US/Australia Free Trade Agreement, Ross Gittins writes that:
It was shaping as a disaster for Mark Latham. He looked like he was in trouble whichever way he jumped. Had he opposed the deal, business would have been down on him, accompanied by all those political journalists and others who think they’re terribly sophisticated on the economy but, in truth, know precious little economics.
(Because of the words “free trade” in its name, and because the deal’s being opposed by the Neanderthal protectionists of the union movement, the political pundits have concluded this is another round in the battle between free trade and protection. So, according to this brilliant analysis, the protectionist opposition to the FTA is being led by Professor Ross Garnaut, sundry former Productivity Commission types and the nation’s economics editors. Yeah sure.)
In Imagining Australia, we point out that Australia’s interests are best served by multilateral trade reform, not preferential trade agreements (misleadingly tagged “free trade agreements”). It’s been interesting to see how the FTA tag has fooled some Australian commentators into thinking that your attitude to the FTA is indicative of how you feel about free trade. In fact, supporting the FTA may make it harder for real multilateral trade reform to succeed. See Chapter 4 for more detail.