UK trade deal hangs in balance as election announcement postpones inquiry

Media Release, 11 April, 2022: The announcement of a ballot to be held on May 21 has left the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement hanging in the balance until a new parliamentary committee can be formed after the nation goes to the polls.

With the conclusion of the final sitting period of Parliament, a Joint Standing Committee on Treaties inquiry into the trade deal will now lapse and start afresh following the election, opening the possibility of further amendments to the agreement should a new government wish to renegotiate contentious clauses.

The trade deal was hyped as “the most comprehensive and ambitious” trade agreement Australia has signed, but the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) has warned in a submission to the postponed inquiry that it needs an independent cost-benefit analysis and significant changes to address its flaws.

Dr Patricia Ranald, Convenor of AFTINET, said:

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

“The devils in the detail which need to be changed include:

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

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

“The entry of temporary workers should be based on the principle that they address genuine labour shortages evidenced by local labour market testing. The A-UK FTA removes labour market testing for uncapped numbers of temporary workers who are vulnerable to exploitation.”

“The Environment and Labour Chapters, and chapters on gender and animal rights, are not legally enforceable in the same way as other chapters.”

AFTINET’s submission urges for changes to be made in all these areas prior to ratification.

AFTINET welcomed the deal’s exclusion of corporate rights to sue governments (known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS), but have alerted the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in a separate submission to 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 does contain ISDS. This needs to be addressed by both governments agreeing not to apply ISDS to each other, as Australia and New Zealand have done in the CPTPP.