Remember the Australia-US free trade agreement? That FTA obsessed the political class in Canberra for much of 2004, with the Howard government and News Corporation outlets desperate to use it to wedge Labor leader Mark Latham, and considerable focus on how much benefit it delivered to Australian farmers.
Back in 2010, to the considerable dismay of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Productivity Commission looked at the value of bilateral FTAs, including the AUSFTA (we’ll use the term “free trade agreement”, however much it’s a misnomer). Despite extensive work of its own, and consideration of the work of economists in Australia and internationally, the PC was unable to find anything beyond potential “small” benefits from FTAs, albeit offset by “material” negotiating costs to government. It concluded about trade in goods: