Feb 27, 2008

Australia: Trade Policy Review

This will not be news to those who follow developments across the ditch closely. Last week Australia's Trade Minister Simon Crean announced a review of Australia's trade policy and trade performance. The reason: because, minerals aside, Australia has felt that it has been under performing in its exports.

This review seems a bit strange to us here at The Hive, particularly as it seems to being done by the wrong people. We would have thought it logical for the Productivity Commission (that most excellent of institutions that we are very jealous of this side of the ditch) to undertake any review of this nature. Instead it is being done by David Mortimer, the chairman of Leighton Holdings and Australia Post, will head the review, with the assistance of HSBC chief economist John Edwards, a former adviser to Paul Keating during his time as treasurer and prime minister.

Don't get us wrong, John Edwards is a good mate of one of our team. We meet with him regularly. And Mortimer is a serious player also, but neither has the real expertise that is displayed by the productivity commission.

We are also a little surprised that Australia has such a poor opinion of its recent trade performance. And on the policy front it has done very well. The only real misstep has been not to join the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (though the quality of their FTA with Thailand is pretty poor, and they could probably been tougher in the negotiation with the US). Joining P4 must now have greater appeal given the US entry into that process.

Lets hope that one issued covered is a serious questioning of why one economy - CER - negotiates so many FTAs separately? As with climate change we would be far happier if Australia and New Zealand moved in concert. We will drop John Edwards a line......