ALP and Greens MPs reject Korea Free Trade Agreement after Parliamentary Committee review

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties issued conflicting reports in its review of the Korea Australia Free Trade agreement (KAFTA), which were tabled in Parliament on August 4, 2014.

The government has a majority on the committee, so it is no surprise that the majority report, although critical of aspects of KAFTA, recommends that Parliament should pass legislation to implement the agreement. But even this majority report contains strong criticisms of KAFTA clauses which enable Korean investors to sue Australian government for damages if a domestic law or policy is claimed to harm their investment, known as Investor State Dispute Settlement or ISDS. The majority report is also critical of changes to copyright law which would favour the rights of copyright holders over consumer rights.

The dissenting report from ALP MPs Kelvin Thomson and Melissa Parke reaffirms ALP policy against ISDS, citing strong evidence presented to the committee that ISDS would undermine democratic legislation. This report notes that many governments are reviewing ISDS and that submissions to a European review found that proposed safeguards in the US-European Transatlantic agreement would not prevent cases being taken against health and environmental legislation. These safeguards are far more extensive than the ones proposed in KAFTA, and reveal that the KAFTA safeguards are not adequate.

This report also recommends against changes to copyright law which would favour copyright holders over consumers, forcing Internet service providers to report and punish consumers who breached copyright law. This would involve legislation to override a High Court decision  It recommends that such a major change in copyright law should be fully debated though the Parliamentary process, not rushed though  as part of implementing a trade agreement.

Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson‘s dissenting report rejects KAFTA, citing  provisions on ISDS and copyright, impacts on employment in manufacturing industry and argues for the release of the text of trade agreements for parliamentary debate before they are  endorsed by Cabinet .

The authors of the dissenting reports should be congratulated for taking a stand against foreign investor rights to sue governments and the extension of copyright. These issues have nothing to do with free trade, but are about increasing corporate monopoly rights at the expense of the democratic rights of citizens and consumers,

The Senate inquiry into KAFTA will hold hearings from next week and report in the first week of October. The government does not have a majority on the committee, so it should be a better opportunity for a more thorough critical review of these issues based on the public interest. Unless the government tries to rush the implementing legislation through before the Senate Inquiry report, the legislation should come before Parliament early in October.

You can send a message to Senators in your state asking them to vote against the implementing legislation  through our website