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.
EU-Australia Free Trade Agreement
Negotiations for an EU-Australia FTA began in July 2018 and are likely to continue for the next two years.
Australia is seeking greater market access for its agricultural goods and for manufacturing and services exports. The danger is that it will trade off other important policies in return for these. See AFTINET’s 2018 submission here.
The EU wants 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 are saying no to this, but want more access to the EU for their exports. DFAT called for submissions on the EU list of over 400 products and submission closed on November 13, 2019.
The good news is that European Court of Justice decisions on ISDS mean ISDS will not be included on the agreement. Like all other trade agreements, there will be state-to-state disputes processes to enforce most chapters in the agreement. But the EU is still pursing separately its proposal for a Multilateral Investment Court in the UNCITRAL forum debating possible changes to ISDS and may seek a separate investment agreement in the future.
The EU also has a more transparent trade policy than Australia, is publishing its draft texts, and will publish the final text before it is signed.
Despite a more transparent process, the EU trade agenda is still dominated by corporate interests and there are still key issues of concern in this proposed agreement:
- EU global Pharmaceutical companies are pushing for longer monopolies on biologic medicines to match the EU standard of 10 years (Australia has five years).
- Restricting regulation of essential services The trade in services chapter is likely to be modelled on the controversial Trade in Services 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 privatise hospitals.
- E-Commerce rules to suit the needs of global digital companies and restrict governments from regulating them. The EU model has some privacy protections, but in the wake of Facebook and other data abuse scandals, we need stronger privacy and other protections for consumers. Some proposed e-commerce rules also reinforce the global dominance of existing digital companies.
- The EU wants 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). The EU has signalled in its conditions for the WTO Government Procurement Agreement that it wants to remove Australian provisions that allow federal and state governments to give preference for government procurement contracts to local SMEs. This Is extremely serious as it is this provision which has enabled state governments to give preference to local steel and other products. The danger is that the Australian government will trade this off for agricultural market access.
- Enforceable labour rights and environmental standards. EU agreements have clauses on labour rights, environmental standards, gender equality, animal protection and other social clauses, but they are not fully enforceable through government-to-government disputes in the same way as other chapters in the agreement.
The challenge will be to ensure that these social clauses are genuinely enforceable.
The UK is was part of these negotiations until It formally left the EU on January 31, 2020.
Negotiations foreparate FTA with the UK began in June 2020 and will continue in 2021 following the Brexit agreement which was finalised on December 31, 2020.
Updated January 2021.
The Report 192 of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) Inquiry on the Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement was quietly tabled in Parliament on the night of Tuesday December 8. The government has a majority on the Committee.
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.
July 29, 2020: It appears that the Japanese and British governments will not be sued by UK and Japanese corporations under the terms of a proposed free trade agreement which they want to conclude by January 1, 2021. That is when the United Kingdom is expected to finally break with the European Union, with or without a trade agreement.
July 13, 2020: In a blunt statement issued on July 6, 2020, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, and Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, added their names to a statement by 110 Catholic Bishops calling on governments to better regulate private corporations, and said the European Union must lead the way.
January 28, 2020: Ursula von der Leyen, the new European Commission President, told business leaders last week that the EU was determined to meet its target of carbon neutrality by 2050, and if necessary would use carbon intensity taxes “to prevent the import of CO2 from abroad”
January 6, 2020: The global response to Australian bushfires suggest that Australia will face strong international pressure to increase its action on climate change, including by transitioning away from fossil fuels.
May 27, 2019: A new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and European research groups analyses the history of trade agreement provisions that seek to “harmonise” government regulation dealing with health and environmental regulation. The study includes World Trade Organisation agreements, and more recent regional and bilateral trade agreements.