China 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.

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."

Call for bans on dangerous asbestos imports linked to trade agreements

August 5, 2016: The discovery of deadly asbestos from imported materials used in a new Perth hospital has sparked a debate about inspection of increased numbers of imports resulting from the China FTA, already in force, and the proposed Indian FTA.

But rather than cracking down on dangerous imports of asbestos products immigration Minister Peter Dutton has launched an extraordinary attack on the construction union,, blaming the union for "driving Australian companies to ‘cut corners’ by importing cheap Chinese materials that may contain deadly asbestos,” according to a report in The Australian. 

Free trade agreements not the great deal we've been sold

22 June 2016

Former deputy secretary in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and High Commissioner in Canada Greg Wood writes that free trade agreements are not the great deal we've been sold.

He argues for less secrecy in trade negotiations and is critical of the China FTA, calling it a "rubbery document, lacking true reciprocity.” 

On the ISDS provisions in the TPP and other deals, he argues that the wording of claimed “carve outs” for health and environment open a "field day for lawyers”.

Read the full article in Fairfax Media here.

Xenophon: trade policy must change to support jobs and diverse economy

June 9, 2016: Senator Nick Xenophon writes in the Australian Financial Review that Australia's free trade agreements with the US, Japan, Korea and China have been badly negotiated and lopsided.  While those countries have kept the right to have local content in government procurement and other industry policies, Australia has traded these away. He argues for a  more balanced and strategic trade policy to support local employment.

Read the full article here.

China FTA Inquiry reports show Coalition, ALP and Greens divisions

MEDIA RELEASE October 19, 2015:  “The majority and dissenting reports of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties on the China FTA show sharp divisions between the Coalition, ALP and Greens on on temporary workers and labour rights, and investor rights to sue governments," Dr Patricia Ranald, Coordinator of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network said today. Read the full media release here.

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