Friday, March 27, 2015

Our businesses neither use nor know about trade agreements

As the government prepares to seal fresh trade deals with China and the twelve-nation Trans Pacific Partnership, a new survey has revealed that most Australian businesses neither understand nor use the existing ones.

The Australian government has negotiated ten free trade agreements (FTAs) and has another seven negotiations under way. Documents released by WikiLeaks on Thursday show Australia attempting to gain exemption from the clauses in the Trans Pacific Partnership that would allow foreign companies to take Australia to international tribunals over the operation of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Medicare.

The annual Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry trade survey shows the least understood free trade agreement is the Korea-Australia FTA, followed by the Australia-Chile FTA. The most understood agreements are the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA (understood by 18 per cent of those surveyed) and the Australia-United States one (understood by 17 per cent).

The results have dropped by about 7 percentage points since the 2014 survey, suggesting fewer Australian businesses understand the agreements than previously.

The draft Trans Pacific Partnership contains more than 20 chapters, each with annexes.

"The majority of responses across each firm size stated 'I don't understand it at all and don't use it' with regard to all listed FTAs," the report says.

Asked to rate how useful they found each FTA, between one third and one half of those responding said they had "never heard of" it.

Only 13 per cent of small businesses found Australia's FTA with New Zealand "really useful". Almost 23 per cent of big businesses found it useful. About 15 per cent of small businesses found the free trade agreement with the US useful and 22 per cent of big businesses did.

Asked how frequently they used government trade support initiatives including the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation, the Export Market Development Grants and Austrade and state government trade promotion agencies, most respondents said they "never" used the services.

"The results suggest that businesses are generally either not aware of the trade support available, it does not address their needs, or the prospective gain is not worth the effort in utilising the service," the report says.

Asked to rate their experiences with Australian Customs, Australian Immigration, Australia Post, courier companies and shipping and logistics companies, almost one fifth rated shipping and logistics companies as "excellent", followed by courier companies. Australia Post received the greatest proportion of "poor" ratings.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald