UNITED STATES-AUSTRALIA FREE TRADE IMPLEMENTATION ACT -- (House of Representatives - July 14, 2004)
Mr. THOMAS. Mr. Speaker, pursuant to House Resolution 712, I call up the bill (H.R. 4759) to implement the United States-Australia Free Trade Agreement, and ask for its immediate consideration.
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Ms. BALDWIN. Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to this legislation. The Australian Free Trade Agreement has been crafted in a way that repeats the flaws and weaknesses of previous agreements such as NAFTA. However, this agreement is particularly bad for Wisconsin dairy farmers and Wisconsin seniors.
This agreement puts Wisconsin dairy producers at a disadvantage. It reduces and ultimately eliminates tariffs on a variety of Australian dairy products, including cheese, which is what most Wisconsin milk is used to produce. While the agreement does eliminate tariffs on U.S. dairy exports to Australia, this will not provide significant new export markets for American dairy producers. The Australian dairy industry is mature and stable, and Australia is a net exporter of dairy goods-they already export more than they import.
Another serious concern I have is how the agreement treats importation of Milk Protein Concentrate (MPC). MPC has been entering our country at an increasing rate since the mid-1990s. One of the biggest exporters of MPC is Australia. MPC can be imported in the U.S. under a very low tariff rate. This makes it an inexpensive substitute for domestically produced milk in American cheese vats and other dairy products. Simply put, MPC takes the place of U.S. milk in a variety of products, thereby reducing the demand for domestic milk, and lowering the price Wisconsin dairy producers receive for their high-quality product. Unfortunately, the agreement did not close the MPC import loophole-the tariff on MPC remains artificially low, and so imports of MPC will continue to displace U.S. milk in the domestic production of dairy products.
Further, I have serious concerns about provisions included in the agreement that relate to prescription drugs. The agreement allows pharmaceutical companies to prevent the importation of drugs to the United States. While this will have a very small practical impact on the importation of prescription drugs from Australia, it does hamper efforts of this Congress to provide our Nation's seniors with access to affordable prescription drugs. We simply cannot stand idly by while American seniors pay 30 percent-300 percent more for the exact same prescription drugs available in other countries. Allowing drug companies to prevent the importation of prescription drugs from Australia sets a dangerous precedent for future trade agreements. We should be expanding seniors' access to affordable drugs, not limiting it.
In addition, this agreement allows drug companies to challenge decisions made by Australia about what drugs should be covered under that country's health plan. This marks the first time that the United States has challenged how a foreign industrialized nation operates its national health program to provide inexpensive drugs to its own citizens. Instead of interfering with the Australian health program, we should learn from it. While our seniors continue to pay exorbitant prices for prescription drugs and lack comprehensive, reliable prescription drug coverage, Australia has developed a program that guarantees its citizens coverage for affordable prescription drugs. We should not be hampering their success.