Australia - United States Free Trade

Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement - Guide to the Agreement

Introduction

This is a guide to the agreed text of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (Agreement) that was concluded by Trade Minister Mark Vaile on 8 February 2004, in Washington D.C. with his US counterpart, Trade Representative Bob Zoellick. The text is the result of an intense period of negotiations that began with a joint announcement by the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, Mr Vaile, and Mr Zoellick on 14 November 2002.

In all, five rounds of negotiations were held with the fifth extended from the original negotiating timetable of 1 to 5 December 2003 through the Christmas period to finish on 8 February 2004. The dates and location of each negotiating round are listed below.

17 - 21 March 2003 Canberra, Australia
19 - 23 May 2003 Honolulu, USA
21 - 25 July 2003 Honolulu, USA
27 - 31 October 2003 Canberra, Australia
1 December 2003 - 8 February 2004 Washington D.C., USA

The Consultation Process

In November 2002, prior to the commencement of negotiations for a FTA between Australia and the United States, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade invited public submissions on issues relevant to the negotiations. The deadline for submissions was 15 January 2003.

Approximately 200 submissions were received from industry, professional and non-government bodies, companies, unions and individuals. Almost 60 of these came from peak industry and business organisations, representing the full range of agriculture, services and manufacturing industry sectors.

The public submissions were a key aspect of the consultations that informed the Government's consideration of its objectives for and approach to the Agreement negotiations. On 3 March 2003, Mr Vaile released a statement of Australia's negotiating objectives following detailed consideration of Australia's interests by the Government and an extensive consultation process with industry, the community and State and Territory governments.

The government continued to consult State and Territory governments, business and the general public extensively in developing and negotiating the Agreement. The DFAT website was continuously updated with Agreement media transcripts, background documents and answers to frequently asked questions, as well as a newsletter distributed to Federal and State MPs and over 1,000 e-mail subscribers.

The negotiating team had also meetings with over 200 industry groups, businesses, state government departments, consumer groups, unions and NGOs. State and Territory governments were briefed before and after each negotiating round. The Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile, discussed the Agreement with his Trade Policy Advisory Committee and WTO Advisory and Agricultural Trade Consultative Groups.

The Approval Process

This guide to the Agreement has been released following the publication of the first draft of the treaty text. Such early publication is a departure from Australia's normal practice which has been to release the text of a treaty only after signature. The text will still be subject to editing for legal accuracy prior to signature.

The text of the Agreement will be tabled in both Houses of Parliament, and referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT). JSCOT will examine and report to Parliament on the FTA. JSCOT may hold public hearings and call for public submissions on treaties under consideration.

The date on which the two governments sign the treaty is yet to be decided, but will probably occur soon after the 90-day period for US Congressional notification elapses in mid-May 2004. Signature does not mean that Australia becomes bound at international law to the terms of Agreement. That only happens once it has entered into force (i.e comes into effect).

Before the Agreement can enter into force and become binding under international law, both Governments must complete their respective domestic approval processes and the Australian Parliament and US Congress must pass any necessary legislation. Once these processes have been completed, the two governments can agree on a date for entry into force, which would occur via an exchange of diplomatic notes. On present indications, the Agreement is unlikely to come into force before 1 January 2005.

A list of private sector, professional and non-governmental organisations which made submissions (and which agreed to being listed), can be found on the DFAT website at http://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/negotiations/us_public_submissions.html

Page updated March 6, 2004

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