Free trade isn't
The most important point about “free trade”, which Martin Feil completely misses (“Trade deals are a losing gamble”, The Age, Oct.21), is that it doesn't mean what it says. The trick is that “free” has been redefined to mean “non-discriminatory between domestic and foreign origins”. As long as your trade laws don't distinguish between local and foreign products, trade can be taxed, regulated, restricted and monopolized to the point of prohibition and still be considered “free”.
Hence a “Free Trade Agreement” is an extension of restrictive trade laws across national boundaries. In a “bilateral FTA”, each country agrees to enforce the other's restrictive trade laws within its own borders.
Hence “FTAs” make consumers pay more for the benefit of monopolies and cartels — which, funnily enough, are the loudest advocates of “FTAs”. That is why the results have been so “dismal”. Things might be better if trade were literally free; but that experiment has never been done, and never will be done except over the dead body of every vested interest under the sun.
[Submitted text (Oct.21) of the letter by Gavin R. Putland, published in The Age on Oct.22, 2009, under the title “Nothing is free”. Posted here Apr.5, 2012.]