US-Australia FTA Gets the Go-Ahead
Free trade agreement passes through the Australian Senate on a vote of 51 - 10
CANBERRA, Australia - 08/12/04 - After a tense week of trading verbal broadsides, the Australian Senate has passed legislation paving the way for a landmark free trade agreement with the US.
The vote comes just a?day after Prime Minister John Howard grudgingly agreed to back a pair of amendments sponsored by the opposition Labor Party aimed at "safeguarding" the country's subsidized pharmaceutical program and maintaining standards for "local content" in motion pictures and other "cultural" properties.
Howard responded to the vote - which passed with a 51-10 majority - with a warning that the amendments to the trade pact "could possibly scuttle" the agreement with Washington.
But US trade officials responded to the vote telling reporters that they will have to "study the amendments to ensure they do not conflict with parts of the deal that already has passed Congress."
President Bush signed the accord in Washington, DC last week after it passed through both the Senate and the House of representatives without any difficulty. He hailed the free trade pact as "a milestone in the history of the US-Australia alliance."
The agreement will eliminate duties on 99% of all US manufactured exports to Australia when it takes effect next January 1.?
Prior to the vote, the US Trade Representative's Office (USTR) said it would not try to intervene or influence the Australian Senate's legislative process.
"We have chosen not to intervene in the internal debate within Australia about the FTA implementing legislation and amendments at this point," the USTR said in a statement released just before the Senate vote in Canberra.
"We've made clear that the United States must certify that the implementation language fulfills the obligations under the FTA before the FTA can come into force and we reserve all our rights in this process," he said.?
The FTA was concluded in February 2004 after more than 12 months of intense negotiations.
US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Australia's Trade Minister Mark Vaile signed the draft agreement in Washington May 18.
Annual two-way trade in goods and services between the US and Australia currently totals about $28 billion, with Australia ranked as the country's 10th largest export market.
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