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US trade policy & FTA's « Previous | |Next »
June 29, 2006

As we learned from the bilateral FTA the US negotiated with Australia the objectives of current US trade policy is to use bilateral FTAs to bind signatory countries into extending their national intellectual-property legislation far beyond the parameters of current WTO agreed standards.

The strategy is not to use FTA's as the building blocks of a global free trade system, on the grounds that, in lieu of multilateral trade negotiations, FTAs are the next best thing to promoting global trade liberalization.This article in Asia Times Online says that:

According to a recent US Congressional Research Service report states that the United States' main purpose for pursuing bilateral FTAs is to advance US intellectual-property protection rather than promoting more free trade. The Bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority Act of 2002, the applicable US legislation for bilateral FTAs, states explicitly that Trade-Related Intellectual Property Standards, or TRIPS, are by law non-negotiable and must reflect a standard of protection similar to that found in US law.

FTA's are used to promote U.S. national interests.

The effect of these bilateral free-trade treaties is to reduce access to cheap medicines both for Australia and for developing countries. We know the argument of the big US drug companies: without strong intellectual-property protection, the pharmaceutical industry will not have the commercial incentive to conduct research and development for crucial new medicines. The implication is that US commercial and political interests over ride public health issues.

In the article referred to above Dylan C Williams mentions the United States' political agenda toward vital public-health concerns, ranging from reproductive-health issues to promoting good dietary standards. He gives the following example:

The US delegation to another recent World Health Assembly (WHA) took issue with a WHO-proposed diet and health resolution, particularly concerning the acceptable level of sugar content in foods, which by the WHO's expert assessment would have cast US fast-food and soft-drink companies in an unfavorable light.

Thsi suggests that US national interests in trade policy amounts to looking after the interests of US companies at the expense of the public good.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:35 AM | | Comments (3)


Gary - don't be surprised, that's exactly what it is meant to do. There's more commercial return to US companies in toto by protecting their IP than by opening markets to their goods and services. The mania for FTAs arises because of the increasing difficulty of finalising mutlilateral agreements under the WTO mechanism. Aust has gone down the same road post-Howard for pretty much that reason. The US offered us an FTA in the mid-90s under what was called a 'Hub and Spokes' model, which was blatantly one-sided and rightly rejected. Move on a few years and guess where we are? Our trade negotiators are pretty damn good - I have known a few - but as with all things, the final decisions are political - hence the FTA we had to have, so to speak.

Phil with a blog,
I'm not suprised with respect to Australia and its rollover.

What does suprise me is the way the US government is prepared to whiteant WHO and its attempts to prevent access to cheap life-saving drugs, cheap drugs to reduce AIDS-related deaths.

Big Pharma comes across as powerful as Big Tobbaco only it has the full backing of the US state.It would seem that WHO representatives cannot comment publicly on the intersection of US trade and WHO public-health policies or commenting critically on the drug-patent issues.

The USA always acts in the interests of the USA just because it can. It will use political and economic power to put pressure on other parties to settle agreements. Look at how we "agreed" on sugar.
However, there can be unintended consequences. The Central America FTA which includes Mexico has seriously damaged Mexican agriculture leading to displaced small farmers/workers flocking to America to find work to survive. Ergo, America has an "illegal immigrant" problem. American agriculture has access to cheap labour so it can swamp even more of the CAFTA agriculture market. So it goes on.