UK trade deal on hold as election announcement postpones inquiry

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Announcement of a ballot to be held on May 21 has left Australia’s free trade deal with the UK on hold until a new parliamentary committee can be formed after the nation went to the polls.

With the end of Parliament’s last sitting period, an investigation by the Standing Joint Committee on Treaties into the trade deal will expire and start again after the election, opening up the possibility of further changes to the deal if a new government wishes to renegotiate the contentious clauses. .

The trade deal has been touted as ‘the most comprehensive and far-reaching trade deal’ Australia has signed, but the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) warned in a delayed inquiry submission that it needed an independent cost-benefit analysis and significant changes to correct its flaws.

Dr Patricia Ranald, Head of AFTINET, said:

“The devil is in the details, and we need a full analysis of the economic, environmental, health and gender impacts of this deal.”

“The devils in the details that need to be changed include:

“Increased commitments to deregulate state government services could restrict the ability of governments to regulate essential services in the public interest.”

“Increased commitments to open state and local government procurement markets to international competition, which could reduce the ability of governments to use government procurement for the development of local industry to recover from the pandemic and to the development of local low-carbon industries and renewable energy to address the climate crisis.”

“Entry of temporary workers should be based on the principle that they are responding to genuine labor shortages evidenced by testing in the local labor market. The A-UK FTA removes labor market testing for an uncapped number of temporary workers vulnerable to exploitation.

“The environment and labor chapters, as well as the gender and animal rights chapters, are not legally enforceable in the same way as other chapters.”

AFTINET’s submission urges that changes be made in all of these areas before ratification.

AFTINET welcomed the agreement’s exclusion of companies’ rights to sue governments (known as investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS), but alerted the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in a separate communication about the risk of UK companies suing Australia if the UK joins a regional mega-deal known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which contains ISDS. This needs to be resolved by both governments agreeing not to apply ISDS to each other, as Australia and New Zealand did in the CPTPP.

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