Edited by Pierre Sauvé and Anirudh Shingal
The importance of enhancing services productivity in improving the Australian economy's efficiency and performance is widely acknowledged. Trade liberalization in services is seen as an important means to this end. It is therefore worth assessing the extent to which Australia's acceleration into Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs), all of which have included services, have contributed to liberalization. In Australia and internationally, PTAs may have gone up to or even beyond GATS commitments in some areas, and hence appear more liberalizing 'on paper'. However, the relevant question remains whether they have actually significantly opened services and increased trade and investment beyond what has been achieved unilaterally. If not, what has been their real liberalization value? Have they led to better regulations and performance, such as generating more or improved Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs), and achieved more open trade in professional services? Have regional public goods, such as joint institutions, been formed off or through PTAs and led to better performance and regional integration? Could well-performing regulations and institutions have been introduced without the significant additional cost and complication of entering PTAs? These issues were recently addressed by the Australian Productivity Commission (PC) in the government-commissioned public study on Bilateral and Regional Trade Agreements (PC 2010).
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