Free trade comes at a cost, unions warn

AUSTRALIA’S Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with South Korea has been hailed by government and industry but greeted cautiously by manufacturing unions.

Member for Wannon Dan Tehan said the recent finalisation of the FTA would enable agricultural exporters to make the most of the growth in the Asian region.

“With this agreement, Wannon farmers will be able to have greater access to the Asian food boom and a market hungry for quality produce,” Mr Tehan said.

“Exporting our produce to foreign markets is the way to secure growth and prosperity in our agricultural industry.” 

State Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said South Korea was already Victoria’s 10th largest food and fibre export market, receiving produce valued at $263 million in 2012-13. 

Mr Walsh expected Australia’s agricultural exports to South Korea to increase by 73 per cent after 15 years as a result of the FTA.

South-west dairy exporter Murray Goulburn also welcomed the FTA, saying it would help it compete on equal terms in Asia with key competitor countries such as New Zealand, United States and the European Union.

However, Australian Manufacturing Union regional organiser Mark Solly was more downbeat about the agreement, saying many free trade agreements had been to Australia’s disadvantage.

He said the importation of wind towers from Korea for the Mount Mercer wind farm was an example of the unfair playing field on which many Australian manufacturing industries had to compete.

The Korean manufacturers of the towers had received 30 per cent subsidies on the cost of power and steel to produce the towers, which had placed them at an advantage to Portland wind tower manufacturer Keppel Prince. He said while overseas countries might remove tariffs, they often hindered trade with other measures.

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