By John Stencel
America can now rest at ease. The U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement finalized last week includes protection of intellectual property rights—mostly music and movies—for the U.S. entertainment industry. As we all know, this disadvantaged industry was in danger of economic devastation without help from U.S. trade negotiators.
I can’t avoid sarcasm when the well-being of America’s hard-working family farmers and ranchers is risked so that manufacturing firms and the Hollywood elite can profit through greater international market access.
While the agreement reached in early February could have been far worse, it allows for more Australian agricultural products, such as wheat, to be imported immediately. It also sets the stage to reduce and eliminate tariffs on Australian agricultural imports, including dairy and beef. In return, the Australians have agreed to eliminate import tariffs on many U.S. manufactured goods and increases protection for U.S. patent holders exporting to Australia. It’s not that we disagree with protection of intellectual property rights or elimination of tariffs on manufactured goods shipped to Australia. The problem is the cost of the concession to U.S. agricultural interests. Should not food production take precedence over pop music and big screen epics? If a world conflict were to close shipping lanes or make allies enemies, would not we rather do without entertainment than food?
If we decimate U.S. producers’ ability to make a profit by reducing tariffs on Australian agricultural imports, the industry could suffer to the extent that the United States could cease to be self sufficient in food production. Without the U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement the U.S. entertainment industry will certainly survive. However, the profitability of U.S. production agriculture continues to decline.
The North American Free Trade Agreement, now a decade old, has failed miserably at both stemming the flow of illegal Mexican immigrants into the United States and increasing profitability for American workers and agricultural producers. U.S. trade negotiators should give pause to jumping into additional bilateral trade agreements given that the current agreements have fallen far short of their goals.