Opinion

Free trade? More like a free smack in the face

By Country News

The other day I heard the front bar big mouth espousing his latest opinions on the free trade agreement with China.

“Free trade,” he sneered. "Nothing free about this trade, except for the Chinese.”

Now I normally take his sermons with the proverbial pinch of salt, except the doc tells me that is bad for my arteries, so now I just let him rant on a bit and then respond with my own short assessment of his take.

Which normally amounts to one word. Nonsense.

But there would be no slowing him on this particular night.

“Do you know,” he said, belabouring his point as always, "that free means those Chinese can buy as much farmland as they like — here. But you try and go to China and buy some farmland there. It can't be done."

Well this created something of a buzz around the bar, but I personally had had enough of his endless waffle; and called it a night.

Not before, though, muttering under my breath as I walked out the door: "Nonsense".

However, for the next couple of days this little seed he had planted somewhere in the Curmudgeon's mind kept boring deeper, so I thought I would check it out. Well, on the surface it seemed kosher.

After all, the big winners from the deal include dairy and beef producers as well as the resources and energy sectors.

But as with other countries, for all the hoopla and chest-thumping, we haven't been able to budge our new best friends on cutting tariffs for products such as rice, wheat, cotton or sugar. Those things will — or might — be reviewed in three years.

And no, neither you nor I can jump on the next flight to downtown Beijing, grab the nearest real estate agent and start buying. Just can't be done.

Of course any of our new best friends in China can come down here and buy just about anything — or everything. So it appears boofhead at the bar finally got it right. Just picked a very bad time to do it.

So is this a truly free trade agreement or is it more a case of the big kid on the block has free trade access here, and we get whatever scraps are thrown from the table?

Some of us are winners but to exclude stuff at the drop of a hat, think barley and beef, of all things, sends a real message that only one team is making up the rules.

We are massive surplus producers of those products, and without foreign markets our croppers and graziers will struggle to make a buck.

So now not only are they subject to drought, flood, fire and foolish governments, they have also been given the bum's rush on this master stroke by politicians past.

So if you are, for example, like the Curmudgeons, and running a mixed farm you just got a big kiss of welcome and before you could get over the tingling on your tongue someone has snuck in from the side and given you an even bigger slap over the back of the head.

Maybe we'll have to get rid of the wheat paddocks and put in vineyards — wine was the other big winner in this even-handed joke. I'll bet our new best friends will be happy to drink to that.