Trade Minister Farrell appears to pre-empt JSCOT review of Australia – UK FTA

September 5, 2022: Labor’s Trade Minster Senator Don Farrell declared over the weekend that he wanted the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement (A-UK FTA) ratified by the end of the year, despite the fact that the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) is yet to review it, and Labor is yet to test it against its own trade policy.

Minister Farrell was hosting the current British Trade Secretary, Ms Anne-Marie Trevelyan, when they both spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald about the trade deal. On her part Trevelyan said she would “fight” any opposition to the deal in the British House of Commons, and said it would be “done and dusted” by the British government in January 2023.

Under the proposed FTA, all British imports into Australia would be duty free, and after a phase in period, all Australian beef and lamb imports into the UK would be duty-free and quota-free. At present, tariffs apply to Australian imports once the volume exceeds a certain quota. British farmers and environment organisations are opposing this aspect of the FTA.

This proposed agreement is much more extensive and deregulatory than previous agreements. It does not include foreign investor rights to sue governments (ISDS) but does include removal of labour market testing for temporary migrant workers, the expansion of federal and state government commitments on government procurement, including contracting out of NSW TAFE, and has fewer exemptions for state government regulation of services and investment. It does have labour rights and environment standards chapters, but these are less enforceable than the rest of the agreement.

Labor’s trade policy opposes removal of labour market testing for temporary migrant workers and has plans for development of local manufacturing industry, including using active government procurement strategies, strengthening the TAFE system and ensuring that temporary workers are only used to address genuine labour shortages backed up by local labour market testing.

Submissions to the JSCOT inquiry closed prior to the May federal election. The AFTINET submission is here. It asks for a careful review and changes to ensure that the agreement will not prevent implementation of local industry policy, and for more enforceable labour rights and environment provisions.  Public hearings begin on September 21, 2022.

JSCOT is due to report to Parliament on November 16, 2022, before parliament votes on the enabling legislation.

Read the full SMH interview here.

Read the AFTINET submission here.