29 November, 2023: Following the collapse of the Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) last month, there is some media speculation that the Albanese government might attempt to bolster its free trade agenda by reviving a trade deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), despite its poor human rights and labour rights record.
EU-Australia Free Trade Agreement
Negotiations for an EU-Australia FTA began in July 2018, were delayed at the end of 2021 by diplomatic tensions over the Australian cancellation of the French submarine contract, but resumed in 2022 .
Australia was seeking greater market access for its agricultural goods and for manufacturing and services exports. The danger was that it could trade off other important policies in return for these. See AFTINET’s 2018 submission here.
The EU wanted protection for its Geographical Indications for agricultural products (that only EU products can be called Prosecco, Feta cheese etc). It has demanded this as a condition for reduced tariffs and quotas for Australian agricultural exports. Australian farmers and food industries said no to this, but wanted more access to the EU for their exports.
European Court of Justice decisions on ISDS mean ISDS was excluded from the agreement.
The EU also has a more transparent trade policy than Australia, publishin its draft texts, and publishes the final text before it is signed.
Despite a more transparent process, the EU trade agenda is still dominated by corporate interests and there were still key issues of concern in the proposed agreement:
- EU global Pharmaceutical companies were pushing for longer data protection monopolies on medicines to match the EU standard of 8-10 years (Australia has five years). this is in addition to the 20-year patent monopolies on all new medicines. This would delay access to cheaper medicines and cost Australian taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
- Restricting regulation of essential services The trade in services chapterwas likely modelled on the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and services chapters in other EU agreements which open most services to foreign investment and restrict new government regulation of services. For example, it could prevent regulation of energy services in response to climate change or prevent improvements in staffing levels in aged care or childcare. It could also stop governments from regulating to fix privatisation failures, as have occurred in vocational education services and privatised hospitals.
- E-Commerce rules to suit the needs of global digital companies and restrict governments from regulating them. These rules deregulate cross-border data flows, prohibit regulation to ensure local data storage and local presence and prohibit regulation of algorithms and source code. The EU model of regulation has some privacy protections, but in the wake of tax evasion by digital companies, data abuse scandals, the development of gig economy jobs without labour rights, artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology we need stronger privacy and other protections for consumers and workers.
- The EU wanted greater market access for its global firms to Australian government procurement by removing local preference provisions for Australian local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). and Indigenous enterprises and including local government procurement. This could conflict with Labor government plans to use government procurement as part of local industry development for renewable energy and other industries.
- Enforceable labour rights and environmental standards. The EU has a policy of including fully enforceable international standards on labour rights and the environment in trade agreements. These standards included carbon emissions reductions and cooperation on the development of clean energy industries, which were in the New Zealand-EU FTA completed lin 2022.
The UK was part of these negotiations until It formally left the EU on January 31, 2020.Negotiations for a separate FTA with the UK began in June 2020 and were completed in 2022. See http://aftinet.org.au/cms/UK-FTA
Collapse of negotiations October 30, 2023
Australian and EU negotiators confirmed that they could not reach agreement for a free trade deal before the EU parliamentary election period due in 2024. This means any future negotiations are unlikely to resume before 2025.
The EU was unwilling to grant significantly more market access for Australian beef, sheep meat, sugar and dairy and was demanding that Australian producers cease using terms like prosecco and feta, which they claim should only apply to products made in certain areas of Europe, known at Geographical Indications. Fiona Simson, President of the National Farmers Federation, which was in close consultations with governments during the negotiations, said that the EU offer would “send parts of our sector backwards." Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell said the European offer was not acceptable. See AFTINET analystis here.
Updated October 2023
October 31, 2023: Australian and EU negotiators have confirmed that they cannot reach agreement for a free trade deal before the EU parliamentary election period begins next year. This means any future negotiations are unlikely to resume before 2025.
July 17, 2023: Trade Minister Farrell and Prime minster Albanese announced last week that EU concessions in negotiating the Australia-EU FTA were not good enough and that Australia would not sign a deal unless it had real commercial benefits for Australia.
30 June, 2022: Speaking to RN Drive on ABC Radio National, Dr Patricia Ranald, AFTINET Convenor, has warned that a potential trade deal containing EU standards in past trade deals, though welcome, may fall short of community expectations for high environmental and labour standards without strong enforcement mechanisms
February 12, 2021: Both new US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson are headlining their determination to reduce net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. But Australia’s Morrison government is declaring that it will fight any proposal to impose border carbon levies, including in the current UK-Australia and EU-Australia Free Trade Agreement negotiations.
January 7, 2021: The European Union and the British government finally came to an agreement about trade in goods on Christmas Eve 2020, which came into effect on January 1, 2021. The United Kingdom has now separated from the European Union, Common Market and Customs Union.
MEDIA RELEASE Monday August 24, 2020
“It is disgraceful that Europeans know more than Australians about our trade negotiations because the Australian government refuses to release the text of trade agreements until after they are signed,” AFTINET Convener Dr Patricia Ranald said today.
August 17, 2020: Dr Patricia Ranald’s Conversation article today argues for an end to secrecy and a more open and democratically accountable trade process. AFTINET will give evidence on August 24 to a Joint Standing Committee on Treaties hearing into the trade agreement process.
August 12, 2020: The Japanese Foreign Minister, Toshimitsu Motegi, and the UK Trade Secretary, Liz Truss met in person in London last week to finalise the proposed UK-Japan Free Trade Agreement, Media reports said that the major issues were settled and Secretary Truss expected the deal to be finalised by the end of August. The UK also wants FTAs with the EU, Australia, the USA, and New Zealand.