China - Australia FTA

ChAFTA finalised in 2015

The text of a bilateral agreement between Australia and China (ChAFTA) was released in June 2015. Following this, parliamentary inquiries were conducted to which AFTINET made a detailed submission. The legislation was passed in October 2015, and the agreement came into  force in December 2015.

This agreement is controversial in Australia because it increases entry of temporary Chinese workers in a large number of occupations, without testing first if local workers are available. There are also provisions for Chinese companies with projects worth over $150 million to negotiate the number of foreign workers they bring in as well as their pay and conditions.  This is the first time an arrangement which could allow most of the workforce to be imported has been included in any Australian trade agreement. It is unclear whether recent changes to the regulations of Australia’s Migration Act will be sufficient to ensure that such workers are not exploited.

Temporary migrant workers in Australia are already at a high risk of exploitation. There have been a number of studies showing exploitation of temporary workers, working long hours in dangerous conditions at less than minimum wages. Without greater protections in place there are concerns that increased numbers of temporary workers negotiated through trade agreements could lead to more cases of exploitation.

The ChAFTA is also controversial because it contains Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions, which allow foreign investors to bypass national courts and sue governments for compensation if they can argue that changes to law or policy harm their investment. This gives increased power to corporations at the expense of democracy and the public interest.

Parliamentary committee recommends that UK and Taiwan should join the CPTPP, but not China

February 14, 2022: The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade (JSFADT) held an inquiry into  he expansion of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific partnership (CPTPP) in 2021, and  the committee report was released on February 10, 2022.

The government has a majority on this committee, which makes general investigations into trade issues. The UK, China and Taiwan applied in that order in 2020 to join the CPTPP, and their applications will be considered by the eight of the eleven governments that have ratified the agreement.

The report recommends that Australia support the applications of the UK and Taiwan, but places conditions on support for China’s accession.

AFTINET submission: China FTA has not met expectations

August 4, 2020: AFTINET’s submission to the DFAT five-year post-implementation review of  ChAFTA is here. A summary is below.

AFTINET criticised the lack of human rights and labour rights in China when ChAFTA was first proposed. Trade and diplomatic tensions between China and Australia have since increased in the context of the US-China trade wars. However, some cooperation continues through international institutions like the WHO and the WTO, which is essential in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. AFTINET will not be drawn into cold war rhetoric but will continue our criticism of the lack of human rights and labour rights in China, and of those provisions in the ChAFTA that are not in the interests of workers and communities in Australia and China.

China’s actions on Australian barley and beef follow WTO rules but are part of harmful polarisation

May 13, 2020: The headlines suggest that China’s threat to impose punitive tariffs on imports of barley from Australia, valued at A$1.3 billion, and banning of Australian beef over labelling issues are all about Prime Minister Morrison’s call for an investigation of China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asbestos discoveries provoke call for temporary ban on Chinese building materials

14 September 2016: A report in to the recent discovery of asbestos at Perth Children's Hospital has prompted a call for a temporary ban on imports of Chinese building materials.

CFMEU WA Secretary Mick Buchan told ABC news: "Until we have systems in place to ensure that any product that comes in from overseas is asbestos-free then we really need to consider what we are importing, and if that means not importing similar products until that can be resolved then that's what we should do."