The subject-matter of this article is the recently altered trade policy and practice of Australia and their consistency with the WTO multilateral trading policies and principles. Following its unhappy experience with the power and politics driven trading under GATT, Australia unequivocally supported the legalistic approach of the WTO trading system during the Uruguay Round. Its active participation in the WTO has given it a fair share of global free trade. The rule-based trading framework of the WTO protects, more often than not, Australia from powerful trading states and blocs using their economic clout to gain unfair terms of trade. Australia has recently opted to pursue its multi-track trading together with its commitments to WTO multilaterial trade liberalization. Since 2002, it has been negotiating a preferential bilateral free trade agreement with its preferred trading partners. The flurry of such negotiations has resulted in the conclusion of a preferential bilateral free trade agreement with Singapore in 2003. Negotiation towards a similar agreement with the U.S. is ongoing. A preferential trade agreement PTA is by nature discriminatory and as such inconsistent with the Most Favoured Nation MFN rule under GATT Article I. Despite this apparent contradiction, GATT Article XXIV permits bilateral PTAs as an exception to the MFN rule under certain explicit conditions, which militate against discriminatory, differential and unequal trading deals among WTO members. This article examines the extent to which the existing and potential PTAs of Australia comply with the conditions of GATT Article XXIV. It concludes that these PTAs are not complementary, if not obstructive alternatives, to the WTO multilateral free trading system. They are not in the best long-term trading interest of Australia either.
- Economic growth
- Global free trade